By Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow city authorities increased parking fines by tenfold on Sunday to try to unclog the Russian capital's roads and pavements, to the bemusement and anger of many residents.
Anarchy has ruled for years in the city centre, with double-parking increasing traffic congestion and pedestrians hardly able to use some pavements because so many cars are parked on them.
But under new legislation, fines for many offences that have until now been rarely enforced rose from 300 roubles ($9.2) to 3,000 roubles ($92) as part of efforts to improve Moscow's image as it tries to become a global financial centre.
"I don't see how they can do it. All these people have to park somewhere," said Lyudmila Starostina, looking out on to a central Moscow street from the beauty salon she looks after on Sundays.
"The city already has way too few parking spaces and now they want to ban even those few spots where it's actually physically possible to leave a car. It's a horrible lot of money they'll be making us pay in fines for it now."
Moscow, Russia's biggest city with 11.5 million people, is struggling to raise its appeal to foreign investors as well as local residents, many of whom are tired of dodging parked cars on pavements and finding bus stops blocked by parked cars.
The new, higher fines will also apply to cars left on zebra crossings, tramway lanes and the entrances to apartment blocks. They went into effect across Russia but tickets will be more expensive in the two busiest cities, Moscow and St Petersburg.
"Well, obviously, this is a positive change. At least it will bring some order," said a policeman who was filling in a ticket for a driver who had been speeding. "My hands are sure to be full now."
Moscow city authorities are also trying to restrict the number of lorries that drive through the city, will introduce a trial period for paid-parking zones and will force owners of cars that are parked illegally to pay for their removal.
It is all part of a drive to reduce the traffic that brings the city to a crawl - and in some cases a standstill - in rush hour. The number of cars has increased dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and city authorities have struggled to come up with a solution.
Traffic cameras have also been introduced to catch drivers who speed or veer on to the wrong side of the road to try to get to the front of traffic jams. In some cases, desperate drivers drive along pavements to get to the front of queues.
The importance of finding a solution has grown because President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have set a target of making Moscow a global finance centre by 2020.
It is a tough challenge. Foreigners who arrive in Moscow are often put off by the high cost of living, especially the sky-high price of accommodation in the city centre, pollution and security concerns.
Moscow simply does not have enough car parks or parking spaces to accommodate the number of drivers who want to park in the centre each day. The improvement of the road network in and around the city has not helped much and the creation of special bus lanes has had little impact.
"It's a controversial idea, to say the least. First they should think of making parking spots and only then of introducing higher fines," said a middle-aged woman enjoying a Sunday morning coffee with her friend on an open-air terrace.
She did not want to give her name, pointing to her car parked illegally on the pavement on the other side of the street.
"It's nearly impossible to park anyway both in the city centre as well as in the residential areas where the grass verges are all covered in cars. The authorities should have thought about that first instead of focusing on how to get even more of our money," she said.
Some Moscow residents say the new rules are bound to lead to more corruption, another of the problems that puts off foreign investors. Drivers have long been able to bribe their way out of fines for speeding and other traffic offences in Russia.
"Only the pockets of the police will be filled by this," Starostina said in the beauty parlor.
The Internet is already full of ideas on how to avoid getting fined. One person, for example, suggested removing the registration plates from your car when you park and putting them back on when you return.
Any relief from traffic congestion and blocked pavements would be welcome for most Russians, but expectations are low.
"With the new rules, I hope at least you will be able to drive through a street and walk down pavements which now are often blocked by cars left everywhere," said a middle-aged man.
"But with the amount of cars and the shortage of parking spaces, I'm not exactly sure how it's supposed to work. In fact, I haven't got a clue," he said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)