With most motorists boycotting street parking in Harare city centre yesterday morning and shopkeepers counting severe losses, Harare City Council reversed the US$1 an hour new parking charges and reverted to $20 an hour.
Few people were parking in the city centre in the morning, either parking for free in nearby suburbs — a 15-minute walk away — or taking their business to flourishing and expanding suburban shopping centres with their free parking in the northern suburbs.
City Parking, the private company set up by the city council to manage street parking, parkades and car parks, unilaterally hiked its charges to US$1 an hour, although people could pay in local currency at the auction rate, a staggering $63,75 an hour and easily the most expensive in the entire Sadc region.
The Herald understands that yesterday Harare Mayor Councillor Herbert Gomba and management engaged City Parking officials and agreed to actually start consultations on new fees that are rational and cost-effective.
Fees in the poshest parts of Johannesburg and Cape Town are more in the line of R50 a day, making even the $20 an hour on the pricey side.
The belief that all those empty spaces in the morning were part of an informal boycott was strengthened as the news of the reversal spread, and large numbers of cars appeared in parking slots in the afternoon.
Although the city council and City Parking have been expanding the reach of paid street parking, it is still possible to find free parking within a 15-minute walk of the city centre, especially to the east and west.
In the last two to three decades, most major corporate headquarters have left the city centre for office parks in the northern suburbs and investors and developers have built or expanded huge shopping complexes in the suburbs, again concentrating on the northern suburbs.
This change in business has seen the city centre more and more hosting smaller businesses that bus passengers, especially those stuck in the city centre while they wait for a connecting bus to their final destinations, might use.
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme announced the council decision on the backtracking of the new fees.
“Council as the sole shareholder in City Parking has engaged the business unit following widespread complaints over its new parking tariff,” he said..
“The shareholder (the council) has shelved the utility’s move to charge US$1 or its equivalent until proper consultations are done . . . In the meantime, parking fees revert to the old rate.”
In a separate interview, Mayor Gomba said a balance would be struck between affordable services and viability of City Parking.
“We all want fairness in terms of the parking fees and I know for a fact that the city parking board and managers would be willing to listen to the concerns being raised by our concerned public,” he said.
“The company has been contributing to the city renewal agenda, affected by the economic challenges faced by all, that as it may be, it is fair to ensure a balance between survival and fairness.”
The Harare Residents Trust said it was pleased that its voice and that of other motorists had prevailed against autocratic governance and management of public affairs.
“Motorists therefore will for now continue to pay the $20 per hour that they had been paying to City Parking for parking in the city centre.
“Well done City of Harare for your listening to the voice of reason. The decisions by public bodies should be made in an inclusive manner. Autocracy does not work in public policy,” said the trust.
Even on social media platforms, including Harare City Councils’ Facebook page, people hailed the reversal.
Tinashe Nyamukapa posted, “You definitely need to work on your decision making process. Things are tough for Zimbo’s and yes the new tariff was highly punitive and unrealistic considering the salaries that people are getting. Thanks, however, for realizing your error.”
Another one, Vengai Mukwati applauded the decision. “This is great. When a good thing is done, we certainly commend it. Business in town needs to survive. The move was repulsive to economic progress. Business in town is already suffering from constipated movement due to Covid-19 regulations. To charge US$1 would have killed it,” he said.