Today, I am in Abu Dhabi, population just less than 1 million and capital of the United Arab Emirates–a modern, urban oasis situated at the crossroads of four continents.
It’s a fascinating place–a bit like Las Vegas without the gambling and glitz, with over-the-top architecture, high-rise mega projects, broad avenues, crazy traffic, hot and sunny days, cool and pleasant nights, dozens of languages spoken, restaurants, night clubs, shopping malls, ocean vistas, and the occasional sand storm, all held together by cheap cars and gasoline and a mutual quest for available parking.
Up until a few years ago, parking in Abu Dhabi was unregulated and free; as a consequence, I am told, it was chaos with a lot of parking on sidewalks, double parking in streets, and vehicles jammed into drive aisles in parking lots. There are numerous private garages in downtown Abu Dhabi and amazingly, some offer free parking 24 hours a day, but the space is not organized or advertised, and so it is difficult to know if you will find a space at any particular time. To bring some order out of this chaos, the city created Mawaquif, a branded parking authority, to provide regulation and enforcement and apply some control mechanisms to the street. In a very short period of time, Mawaquif has done what appears to be a pretty good job. Most parking areas on the streets and in public surface lots have regulatory signage, paint on the curbs, and a zoned pay and display system that charges up to 15 dirhams ($5) for parking up to 24 hours. Time at the meters is not strictly regulated, the fee seems to do the trick.
There is considerable competition for space, particularly for long-term parking for downtown employees during the morning rush. The city is now turning to garage construction in high demand areas, and there are several public structures under construction. The Emiratis believe in doing things big–if you build it, they will come and if you build it bigger, more will come and they will bring money. The UAE was part way through a major building boom back in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, and many of the mega-projects that were in mid- construction simply halted. From my vantage point, parking projects are revving up, the cranes are swinging, and the projects are coming back to life.
There are interesting times ahead.