Both the Harare City Council with its US$1 an hour parking charge and those who criticise this charge, are not thinking clearly about what should be charged, where and when.
There is a limited area of the city centre where US$1 an hour for street parking is quite reasonable. It is easy to see such areas for there are cars double parked and no empty bays. Demand is high. But the main congested area is quite small, roughly the centre of the city centre, the handful of blocks bounded by Sam Nujoma Street, Samora Machel Avenue, Angwa Street and Robert Mugabe Road. There are a few other places, usually outside banks and none more than a block or two long, where again US$1 an hour makes sense.
But for the rest of the city centre there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for such a parking charge. It is quite ridiculous to decree that a parking bay in Rezende Street South is as valuable as a parking bay close to the intersection of Nelson Mandela Avenue and First Street. Yet generally the city council makes that eccentric policy. The main reason for parking charges is not so much to raise money, although this cannot be ignored, but to ensure parking is protected, orderly and fairly rationed.
The other need in any sensible parking policy is to distinguish between parking for shoppers and casual visitors and parking for those who need to work, day after day, in the city centre. To a degree the city council accepts this division.
Contract parking, paid monthly upfront, is around a third of the daily cost at the two council parking garages and the two council car parks. But these four facilities are only of real benefit to those who work in the north and east of the city centre. They are far from the southern and western sectors. And even casual parking in these facilities is the same US$1 an hour.
This tends to increase congestion on the streets. If you have to pay US$1 an hour to park in a parking garage and then walk 10 blocks, or pay US$1 an hour outside where you want to go, then it is easy to work out what the average person will do.
It is the same with commuters having to use the streets. If you work in the congested area you will park outside your office before your customers arrive, rather than park a few blocks away and walk. There is no economic incentive to do otherwise.
The city council can change all of this at a stroke, by introducing variable parking charges. It can and should keep the US$1 an hour where this is justified. But the next zone moving out from the city centre can be a US$1 for two hours, followed by a US$1 for three hours and then the residual parking let at US$1 for four hours.
Such a policy would be fair, rational and would help de-congest the centre of the city centre. People working there will have an incentive to walk a couple of blocks, leaving the spaces outside their workplaces empty for customers.
Paying US$1 an hour for one hour is not a problem. Paying it every day for nine hours is a problem.
This variable charge is not a new idea. When the city council used parking metres it had five separate parking charges depending a lot on demand and the need to spread parked cars more evenly.
The council now needs to show it can be more intelligent and fairer.