Feb 05, 2017 Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom

parking meterThere is no point at this stage in the Movement Against Parking Meters (MAPM) engaging in any consultations with City Hall. No consultations at this stage will change anything. There is only one way in which the citizens of Guyana can see change in relation to the parking meter deal: a boycott of the parking meters.
No consultations, at this stage, are going to cause any drop in the charges. The MAPM does not yet have the numbers, and their actions have not yet caused any financial strain on Smart City Solutions, the company which has the contract for parking meters.
It is a waste of time having any consultations with City Hall. The powers there are not going to be impressed by a small group which has so far had only one protest. They will not budge. Any negotiations, at this stage, will not strengthen the hands of MAPM. They have to keep up the pressure through the boycott and the peaceful mobilization of citizens and groups so as to force the parking meter company to the negotiating table.
City Hall cannot effect any changes to the tariff structure for parking meters. City Hall has signed a contract with the parking meter company. It has no say anymore in the tariff structure. It cannot revoke or amend anything that it has inked without financial implications for the Council.
The parking meter company has a long-term deal with the City. It is not going to walk away or concede easily to that arrangement. It has smart public relations. It quickly made concessions to teachers for parking meters which were located outside of schools. But it cannot make such concessions to employees who work in businesses and who have to park outside their places of business.
Those workers cannot afford to pay the parking meter fees. It will cost a minimum of $1600 per day for each employee who has to park outside his or her place of work. This is unaffordable.
The parking meters have begun to hurt some people who live in backhouses on those streets where meters have been erected. In other streets where there are no parking meters, people are parking so as to avoid the parking meters, and are leaving no parking for the residents who live there.
But you can bet that as certain as day follows night, the parking meters will be extended to those areas soon. When this happens, people will be forced to use the parking meters. The parking meter people are astute in their public relations. They know what they are doing. They are rolling out the programme in a smart way to ensure that there are no mass protests.
Eventually it will be hard for anyone to avoid the parking meters. Unless, of course, people have the foresight and are prepared to take action to sustain the present boycott until the company has no choice but to fold up and walk away.
But the company will not fold up and walk away that easily. And the MAPM cannot realistically hope to sustain any boycott or protests indefinitely. What then are the latter’s options?
Firstly, it has to widen those participating in the protests and boycott. The involvement of more groups and strata of society must be encouraged. City Hall has begun to caricaturize the MAPM as a ‘high society’ movement. More businesses must be brought on board; all those likely to be affected should be encouraged to participate in both the boycott and the peaceful protests. If parents and school children join the protests because they are going to be affected, it will give greater momentum to the movement. Right now parents are being affected at some schools because they cannot park and wait for their children to exit school.
Secondly, MAPM will have to negotiate with government for the use of open spaces, not controlled by City Hall, which can be used for free parking. Churches should be encouraged also to open their compounds to free parking for workers. Those who own open lands in the city should offer low-cost private parking, and if approval for this is rejected by City Hall, they should allow for free parking.
Thirdly, people will have to walk or cycle a bit more, and this will mean that MAPM will have to work with mini-bus drivers and the traffic authorities to explore new routes for people parking in non-parking areas.
Fourthly, the legal options have to be pursued. Are the present penalties legal, given that one lawyer is claiming that they were not gazetted? Is a civil suit possible at this stage for persons who have been slapped with fines? There is a legal challenge to the parking meter contract. Civil society may wish to align itself with that challenge.
It would be a disappointment if the protests taken by civil society fizzle out, as many think it will. The present protests are based on a just cause. But it takes staying power and smart strategizing to see the process through, something that members of civil society have always lacked because of the threats to their personal and business interests.