As pilgrims flock to Makkah to perform Umrah during the peak season of Ramadan, the holy city is struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of vehicles coming from various regions of the Kingdom as well as from neighboring GCC states on a daily basis.
When I performed Umrah on the 10th day of Ramadan this year, I noticed a new traffic system where vehicles coming from Jeddah were being directed to the parking area near the Shumaisy checkpoint.
There are shuttle services or taxis to take pilgrims and visitors from this parking area to the Grand Mosque.
There are also other similar parking areas around the holy city for those who enter Makkah through the east, west and southern entry points to ease traffic jams inside the central Haram area, which is already overcrowded with the huge number of vehicles used by Makkawis, and is not in a position to accommodate any more from outside.
The new traffic system may be a temporary solution theoretically for easing traffic congestion within the central Haram area. But practically, there are inconveniences and difficulties for those coming to Makkah as they have been forced to leave their vehicles at the parking area and then take another vehicle to reach the Grand Mosque.
It is easier for everybody when they are going to Haram. But the difficulties begin when pilgrims start to return.
It is hard to find vehicles that take them back to the parking areas. If they are lucky to find one, at times they are forced to shell out up to SR100 for the short trip. There is no mechanism to rein in those who levy unreasonable charges.
There are neither any guidelines for determining fares nor monitoring agencies to take measures against those who charge exorbitantly.
There is another problem faced by those pilgrims who come from outside Makkah, especially those from neighboring countries by land.
Most of them use their private vehicles to take their families to Makkah to spend a few days of the holy month in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque. They also take necessary items and personal belongings that they need during their stay at hotels in the central Haram area.
Therefore, they face difficulties coming and going after they park in the parking lots away from the central Haram area. Many of these pilgrims were seen pleading with officials in charge of the parking areas to allow them to take their vehicles to the areas close to their accommodation.
Some Umrah pilgrims from Jeddah have started taking the old Makkah-Jeddah road to avoid parking at the area near Shumaisy and reach the central Haram area directly avoiding traffic police.
We have to find working solutions to address this problem. One solution could be creating a huge parking lot within the borders of the central Haram area itself. This parking lot should not be more than two or three kilometers from the Grand Mosque.
Another solution is to develop the existing parking areas in Kuday and Rusaifa. Instead of expanding the parking area, we can take advantage of multistory parking complexes.
When constructing such parking facilities, heavy vehicles could be parked on the ground floor while the upper floors can be reserved for light vehicles. Through introducing such a system, these parking areas can accommodate considerably more vehicles than existing parking facilities.
What is preventing us from implementing such projects that contribute substantially in easing the current heavy traffic pressure on the central Haram area and help accommodate a large number of vehicles carrying pilgrims?
The traffic congestion still remains an irremediable problem for Makkah. Every year, the holy city faces the same problem during peak seasons.
Makkah has been facing a shortage of parking areas for several years despite relentless efforts to find solutions. The problem has further worsened with an increase of pilgrims and visitors year after year. There have been several studies and researches to address this issue but the proposals are yet to be put into action.
As a result, the problem still remains and is making the task of policemen to facilitate a smooth flow of traffic much harder. They deserve praise for working hard to ease traffic congestion and serve the pilgrims and visitors to the city in the best possible manner during rush hours, especially during the holy month.
By MAHMOUD AL-DOAAN