Don't penalise weekend shoppers

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    By Mick O’Reilly, Deputy Managing Editor  www.gulfnews.com

    Yes, commuters shouldn’t be encouraged to leave their cars at the mall while riding the Metro, but make parking free on Fridays and Saturdays.

    It’s Friday, and when you’re reading this, I’m likely at the mall. I usually head over to the Mall of the Emirates, savour a leisurely coffee, read a little. Then it’s a bit of window shopping, followed by the weekly chore of picking up some groceries before lugging them home.

    Occasionally, I head over to the new Dubai Marina Mall, but I have to confess, its spiral design often leaves me driving around in circles and I get lost. (Hey, I’m a man, after all, and I’m pre-programmed not to ask for directions!)

    My wife, Christine, and I only have one car. She spends months away in Canada, so there’s no need to increase our carbon footprint here. Besides, if the truth be known, I think she’s a little afraid of the traffic in Dubai. And I also think she enjoys being chauffeured around like the lady that she is.

    Christine is very much looking forward to the new Metro opening, and she says it will give her more freedom. (Heck, it’ll even give me more freedom, being relieved of my chauffeuring duties!)

    The arrival of the Metro will also, however, disrupt my Friday morning routine.

    I’m not going to be able to linger as long as I normally do over that coffee. The window shopping around both levels of the Mall of the Emirates will be short-circuited to one level, one end. Because, don’t forget, I’ll still have to fight my way through the cash-register queues at Carrefour.

    But now I’ll have a three-hour time limit to get it all done because I don’t want to have to pay for parking. It used to be free. From September 10, no more.

    The move to charge comes as the mall operators fear there will be unscrupulous drivers who’ll use the parking facilities there, leaving their cars all day as they hop on the Metro for work.

    It’s not just the Mall of the Emirates – the same is also happening at Deira City Centre.

    The mall owners have good reason to be worried. If the Metro proves to be a success, park and ride will become a handy way to get around town, and what better place to ditch your car than at the nearest and most convenient mall?

    In Toronto, it’s a common practice, and for that reason, malls most affected by the unscrupulous drivers have instituted schemes.

    Take Yorkdale, for example, probably the city’s largest mall. It’s on the subway line to downtown, has a huge parking lot and is prime parking territory because it’s also adjacent to the main highway across the city. There, though, the barriers for the mall entrances don’t open until long after the morning rush has gone. If offices open at 9am, the mall opens at 10am and the problem is limited.

    I can fully understand the need to implement a scheme to deter drivers, and the three-hour limit on free parking is one such approach.

    From my reckoning there are three exits to the mall and I’d hate to think of what the backlog of traffic will be at those exits as drivers fumble with their tickets – never mind the confusion of trying to figure out whether the three hours have passed or not. And at the busiest of times over the weekend, it’s often difficult enough trying to find a place to park. My most-preferred solution is simply to head up to the top level and just forget about looking on the first two levels.

    But just imagine how bad it’s going to be trying to get out as well?

    And if I lived anywhere near the Mall of the Emirates right now, I’d be a little worried about my parking spot. Once the Metro opens, it’s going to be open season on parking spaces; worse when the fees and long queues hit. I don’t think this is the case in Deira – it’s pretty much impossible to get a parking space near there at the best of times.

    But there is a simple solution.

    On one side there’s the need to prevent long-term illegal parking at the malls.

    And on the other there’s the need to ensure the malls can cater to all at the busiest time of the week.

    But wait! If people are shopping, they can’t be at work. And if they’re at work, they can’t be shopping.

    The solution?

    Make parking free at Deira City Centre and the Mall of the Emirates on Fridays and Saturdays! They can still have a three-hour limit during the week. It really is that simple!