High Street at a dead end

Paid street parking in Joburg suburbs could prove to be a total buzzkill.

Street parking in Joburg is one of those strangely unifying causes akin to e-tolling at a local level.

Residents of many of Joburg’s suburbs from the leafy “Parks” to Fordsburg are up in arms against proposals to impose street-parking fees.

The expanded roll-out has been postponed four times after the inner-city pilot exposed numerous problems with the system.

While nobody likes to pay for parking it is often a necessary evil useful in part to pay for infrastructure and provide revenue and in part to ease congestion in major nodes especially in city centres.

But in the case of a number of Joburg suburbs outside central business districts there are several reasons street parking is incorrectly being reconsidered.

Suburbs such as Parkhurst Rosebank Brixton Emmarentia Birnam Melville Florida Norwood Fordsburg Parkview Greenside Craighall Park Northcliff and Linden are all earmarked for paid parking and residents and businesses in these areas are concerned about the threat to Joburg’s already endangered high streets.

Proposed street-parking tariffs of R8 per hour often exceed those of commercial shopping malls which provide a superior service (they are often undercover with security guards and special bays and allow for grace periods of 15 to 20 minutes free parking).

Even the R4 per half-hour proposal will diminish the appeal of bread-and-milk runs to local convenience stores and has shop owners worried the relatively higher cost of parking may act to further drive people away from local High Street businesses into shopping malls.

This promotion of a strip-mall culture will further decrease community cohesiveness.

What fuelled the anger of Parkhurst residents in particular was that they were inadequately consulted on the pilot project there which is said to have dented daytime trade of local businesses such as restaurants by as much as 50%.

This lack of proper consultation in the area was reflected in the involvement of the private company Ace Parking Services which is to receive the lion’s share of the income (74.8%) from parking fees while the City of Johannesburg will pocket fines for those not complying.

Adding insult to injury the company is planning to charge higher rates in Parkhurst than in other municipalities where it operates.

In the inner city councillors and officials from the city’s public safety committee visited Commissioner Fox Loveday and Rissik streets
and found further cause for concern: Ace was believed to have subcontracted its services without consultation robbing the city of potential revenue.

Much-abused marshals were losing out too earning as little as R45 a day or 15% of collections which were low owing to non-compliance by many provincial government employees who had allegedly been told not to pay for parking.

A large reason for the failure of the system in the inner city was a lack of policing.

The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department was found to be inadequately supervising the system meaning the issuing of receipts was often not taking place (with marshals pocketing the revenue they were given) and cars were parked in the same spots for an entire day.

The high private sector cut as problematic as it is for city coffers simply does not seem to be working to incentivise Ace or marshals in the face
of public defiance in the absence of policing.

City coffers are not benefiting with tickets not being issued and even if they were the high cut would mean limited income.

Marshals who still work alongside car guards are hardly making a living wage.

Motorists are unclear about whether the system is being enforced or not which is exacerbated by a lack of signage.

Such leakage fuels the resentment of residents who pay rates and feel these should fund parking facilities in the streets of their neighbourhoods and suburbs.

A complicated tender process that saw the awarding of the contract to Ace does nothing to help this unhappiness nor do allegations of subcontracting.

There are further problems for communities: parking will be diverted off metered main roads to ill-equipped side roads causing congestion and inconvenience for home owners.

The city will need to be very considered in rolling out the proposed scheme given the numerous objections.

While many affected will be in the ranks of the middle and upper-middle classes this group forms the backbone of High Street culture to the extent that it exists in Johannesburg and are a vocal and important group of stakeholders and ratepayers.

The parking payment scheme will not be a tax on the rich alone.

The list of proposed suburbs includes many working-class areas and economic nodes such as Fordsburg which can ill afford more pressure on already hard-pressed residents.

While at best a paltry 25% of parking revenue will go to the city it will result in a vast amount of ill-will from suburban residents and businesses.

The city needs to ask whether it is willing to boost a soulless mall culture and a perception of bleeding residents at every turn.