UAE motorists have backed a move to waive fees for Abu Dhabi’s new road toll scheme until next year.
Traffic charges were due to be introduced from Tuesday only for transport authorities to put the brakes on the plans and instead announce a free trial period would be in place until January 1, 2020.
Commuters with cars registered outside the emirate were told to register for the system online — with an initial 10-day grace period set for unregistered motorists.
Abu Dhabi residents — who do not need to sign up online — have already been added to a registration database but were waiting for messages from police to explain how to pay the toll charge.
Some residents said a problem with a text message confirmation system meant they could not complete the registration process.
Shahed Mardini, 27, was glad to hear that the free trial will be in place for the rest of the year after growing concerned she had not received a text message to explain how to pay for travelling through the four designated toll gates.
“Since there is an extension until January, I am relieved. It will give us more time to figure out how to pay and how to adjust our budget,” she said.
The road tolls are part of government efforts to reduce congestion and encourage people to use public transport.
The department increased bus routes and introduced a carpooling system to encourage motorists to use alternative modes of transport and help reduce carbon emissions, which have risen in Abu Dhabi over recent years.
Ms Mardini is in favour of the cost-saving aspect of carpooling, but has some reservations.
“I like the idea of splitting the cost of fuel and tolls. For me, I wouldn’t ride with anyone for free because I wouldn’t want to be a burden, but if we can split costs then I would feel comfortable doing it,” she said.
“I wouldn’t ride with men, I would have look for a female motorist.
“I also don’t mind offering rides to others, but again the passengers must be women only.”
The Department of Transport said it was offering the free trial period to allow commuters more time to prepare for the introduction of the charges.
“This trial period will provide residents more time to plan the best travel times and explore transport alternatives,” the DoT said.
It also revealed that senior citizens, people with disabilities, retirees, low-income earners would be among those people exempt from the fees “according to eligibility”.
Monthly caps for private vehicles were set at Dh200 and Dh150 for the second vehicle registered to a single resident’s name. And a monthly cap of Dh100 was set for each additional vehicle.
Ms Mardini said capping the toll charges at Dh200 per month is “a great idea”.
“There are people in Dubai who pay more than Dh1,000 on toll gates in Dubai, we don’t want the same in Abu Dhabi.”
Four gantries have been placed at the Sheikh Zayed, Maqta, Mussaffah and Sheikh Khalifa bridges — to charge motorists entering or leaving Abu Dhabi island.
Once the tariffs come into effect, drivers will be charged Dh4 during peak periods — 7am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm, Saturday to Thursday. A Dh2 off-peak fee applies outside these times, Fridays and public holidays. There is some good news for frequent users as maximum daily charges are capped at Dh16.
Mohammed Kaddoura, 39, a business manager, said the trial period is “very helpful” for transport officials to ensure the system runs smoothly.
“The public is ready, but they [Department of Transport] need to be ready.
“They need to solve the issue of Dubai car plates not appearing in the system, and old phone numbers that they are sending the codes to.”
Mr Kaddoura has two cars with Dubai number plates but was unable to register them last week.
One of the cars was not accepted by the system, and the code for the second car was sent to his old number which he stopped using eight months ago.
“The extension was necessary for motorists who commute daily,” he said.
“Like my brother for instance, he lives in Dubai, has a Dubai car plate, and works in Abu Dhabi, he would not have had time to finalise everything by tomorrow.”