x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

High cost of parking drives DIFC workers to distraction

Frustrated workers at DIFC resorting to desperate measures to avoid parking fees of Dh2,000 per month.

An unmarked parking area crammed with cars opposite the DIFC building. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
An unmarked parking area crammed with cars opposite the DIFC building. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // While the parking garages of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) stand relatively empty, the streets surrounding the city's finance hub are lined with illegally parked cars. That is understandable, when one considers the fees being charged for a space inside: Dh2,000 per month, or Dh2,500 for valet parking, according to Secure Parking, the parking consultancy operating DIFC car parks. That amounts to approximately Dh30,000 a year.

On Tuesday, hundreds of cars were fined for parking in vacant sand lots and other areas close by - even though motorists have been told their cars will be towed away if they continue to occupy unmarked spaces. Staff at DIFC have voiced anger over the lack of adequate parking facilities, saying they feel cornered into paying the high monthly fees. Meanwhile representatives of the centre and the transit authority note that driving your car to work is not the only way to get to work.

Since starting work at DIFC in July, Sarah Lawrence from the UK has parked in various vacant sand lots-turned-parking lots surrounding the centre, saying no other affordable alternative has been offered. Ms Lawrence arrives at work an hour early to secure a parking space a few blocks away. It took her around 15 minutes to walk from her car to the office on Wednesday - which might not sound like much, until you factor in the heat and lack of pedestrian-friendly walkways.

Most companies offer to pay part of the parking fee - Ms Lawrence's company will pay up to 75 per cent of her monthly total. "Still, I do not want to even pay Dh500 per month. When I was working at Dubai Media City, I didn't have to pay anything," she said. Stuart Davidson from New Zealand is a DIFC employee who was unpleasantly surprised by a parking ticket after leaving the office on Wednesday - he moved his car twice that day to avoid getting one, to no avail.

"There isn't even an amount written on the ticket. I have to go to Dubai Police to find out how much I have to pay because I was told I cannot pay online," Mr Davidson said. The lack of parking affects nearby residents too, said Roy McFarlane, who lives at Sky Gardens. "I can understand the situation these employees are facing, but I have one free allocated space and purchased the second. When I come home, I often find someone else in my spot," he added. "The parking downstairs is not monitored by security, so they park there all day."

DIFC representatives said street parking is available less than 100 metres away from the centre and there are two Metro stations and three bus stops in close proximity. Apart from these facilities, the centre provides a rank of public and private taxi services. The Roads and Transport Authority said it is not simply a matter of turning a plot into a car park. "We understand there is a general need for more car parking spaces around Dubai and are currently looking at various feasibility studies to find solutions - some of which may take longer than others," said Peyman Younes Parham, the RTA spokesman. "Just because there happened to be free space at one time, it does not mean it will always be available."

As the city grows, he said, the need for adequate parking and public transport services also grows and at the moment, the Metro provides a good alternative. "We have buses that specifically feed these Metro stations. Why not use them? Traffic is a major problem and we want to minimise the number of people using their vehicles. Traffic congestion comes with many problems and costs the Government almost US$2 billion [Dh7.3 billion] a year," said Mr Parham.

At present 6 per cent of the population uses public transport. The RTA aims to make that 30 per cent by 2020 and says it is on target to meet that figure. Laura Howard, an Australian who also works at DIFC, said taking the Metro was not an option for her. "I appreciate there is a Metro system, but I drive because it would take almost an hour and nine stops from my closest Metro station," she said.

She suggests affordable paid parking by meters or dedicated parking buildings.