3 May 2012

Nigeria: 'Park and Pay' or Pay the Fine

In Abuja, the greatest challenge for most motorists appears to be that of adequate parking spaces.

In a city that has thousands of cars to contend with on daily basis on its numerous roads and link highways, including those that ply inter state, managing these amazing number of cars is no mean task for city officials.

In a bid to bring a modicum of sanity to the situation, the authorities recently brought to bear a new policy which would see motorists paying a sum of money for parking their vehicles in specific places in the city centre. The FCT administration recently came out with a policy that will see drivers paying a minimum of N50 for parking spaces in designated areas of the city. The policy has however not gone down well with many motorists ,who insist that it is another move at fleecing them out of their hard earned money.

A few however see it as a positive trend that is capable of bringing order into parking in the city while at the same time allowing the authorities to earn a little revenue. The administration has however insisted that the move was principally aimed at easing traffic congestion on the roads , as well as entrenching traffic discipline and 'best practices by road-users, especially drivers who park indiscriminately on roads within the city.'

The FCTA has also said that its 'Park and Pay Policy' will not inflict hardship on the city's residents but would rather bring sanity to the road transport system within Abuja city. Spokesperson of the FCT Transport Secretariat, Mrs Ojeme noted in a chat with Daily Trust that if the policy is well implemented and accepted by residents, the thorny issues of wrongful parking by motorists will be stopped. "For every new administrative policy, there is bound to be controversy and such policies hold sway in most countries of the world, where sanity obtains in the way vehicle parking systems are managed in those cities," she explained.

She further urged motorists in Abuja to embrace the policy, since it is meant for their convenience and comfort. 'Most of the people who complain about the policy would soon begin to enjoy it in a matter of months when they see the order and sanity that the policy is able to bring about. It is not all about the money which will be raised from the policy.

It is principally about the benefits accruable from such a laudable project that is commonplace in advanced countries of the world. Our country should not be excluded from these modern trends,' she added.

Recently, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) signed a contract with two firms, Integrated Parking Services Limited and Platinum Parking Management Services Ltd. for the provision, installation and management of on-street parking facilities and services in Abuja both thus becoming the first civil parking enforcement companies with such responsibilities in Abuja. According to press reports the contract is valued at N1.7 billion with a huge chunk to be delivered into the city's coffers.

A female resident who has lived many years abroad says she is pleasantly surprised by the new policy. She was initially stunned when she saw 'smartly dressed officials' implementing the policy along the Ahmadu Bello expressway. Their decent manner of approach in explaining the policy to motorists and in the issuance of parking receipts astounded her, making her to temporarily think she was back abroad. 'It is a good policy if well implemented and accepted by residents will go a long way in bringing us to par with developments around the world,' she enthuses proudly.

But others who have tasted the unpleasant side of the new policy, are yet to share the same enthusiasm. Illegal parking in such spots leads automatically to clamping of such cars. Platinum Parking Management Services Limited, one of the companies monitoring the parking laws in the FCT has this to say on the legality of its clamping of vehicles of erring motorists on its website. 'Wheel clamping and vehicle removal has proved to be the most effective deterrent and cost effective solution to eliminate unauthorised parking both on and off street... the law requires that large, clear warning signs are placed throughout the parking area, informing motorists of the parking restrictions in place, so that they are easily visible from wherever a car may be clamped and, should they park in breach of the parking restrictions, they will be entering into a contract agreeing that we can clamp/remove their vehicle and charge them to release and/or return the vehicle. By parking, the driver automatically enters into a contract with us to clamp or remove their vehicle. Signage shall be installed throughout the parking area informing motorists of the terms and conditions of parking. We shall then have our fully uniformed Parking Officers commence patrols to issue Penalty Charge Notices and clamp any offending vehicles. The offending vehicle shall have (x) hours to pay a set fine after which their vehicle gets towed away to a vehicle pound-yard. If and when the vehicle is towed to our designated yard for safe keeping of the vehicle until the owner reclaims their vehicle, a daily surcharge shall be added to the initial charge of clamping plus removal cost. The daily storage rate will usually attract not more than 15% (fifteen percent) of the cost of clamping and towing added together. If the vehicle is not reclaimed back by the owner between 3 months maximum after clamp and tow date, we shall obtain the registered keeper's details from the police and/or the vehicle licensing authority. We shall make all efforts set in the judicial guideline to locate the owner of the vehicle before such vehicle shall be auctioned off to the public at a registered auctioneer to recover part of our management cost,' it says sternly.

Not many feel elated by the policy. A motorist, Ayodele Olusina says it is another money spinner for the authorities. 'It is just another move to generate more revenue for the city. Of course ,that is alright but should it be at the detriment of the masses? They should instead think of building more parking lots across the city for the use of the people, rather than further impoverishing them. The policy is not totally sound in its merits.'

Sikiru Deji ,a commercial driver, is somewhat indifferent: 'the government must be obeyed at all cost no matter what one thinks. People like us have learnt to obey whatever they throw at us. For us transporters ,the policy does not directly affect us as we are always on the move. The private car owners are more affected. The Policy is good to a large extent however.'

Abdul-azeez Usman, another resident looks at the channel of the expected revenue: 'will the funds be used well? It is good if we are able to raise revenue for the authorities. But we hope the cash from the proceeds will not end up in private pockets. I enjoy it and willingly pay when I park but my fear is if the sacrifice is really worth it.'

A motorist who declined giving his name is more forthright in his condemnation: 'I don't like the policy at all. There are better things to be done in the FCT rather than embarking on a controversial policy. It is not what we need now in the FCT.'

Others wonder if there would not be a clash of duties between the officials of government recognised outfits such as the Police, the Vehicle Inspection Outfit, VIO and the Federal Road Safety commission, FRSC and personnel of the two concessionaires.

The policy has received support from a section of the National Assembly. Senate president David Mark recently threw his weight behind it: "For Abuja to be a model city you must take painful decisions.

In any case, you need to provide enough for things to work in Abuja. I am saying this, so that those in charge of Abuja could embark on initiatives geared toward boosting internally generated revenue so that they can provide the facilities that you want them to provide in the city.

The minister of Abuja should make sure that there are facilities to take care of the pressure and those trooping to Abuja, because if care is not taken, sooner than later Abuja will be like Lagos. People have to pay for the parking space in Abuja,' he was quoted as saying.

In the meantime, an Abuja based lawyer, Innocent Onwu, has taken the Minister of the FCT to an Abuja high court for alleged 'illegal collection of fees from motorists who park their cars in the streets and roads of Abuja and for lack of necessary laws backing such collections.' Joined in the suit is the Federal Capital Territory Administration. In a 22 paragraph affidavit deposed to by Innocent Onwu, he noted that only the National Assembly has powers to make laws for the FCT, including legislation on fees and revenue collections and observed that no such laws have been enacted for the defendants to leverage upon for such "illegal collections." The matter is yet to be assigned to a judge so no specific date has been fixed yet for hearing of the suit.

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