Street parking in Harare city centre is now set at US$1 an hour or the equivalent in local currency at the ruling exchange rate set by the auction system, at present $63.7442, more than tripling the previous $20 an hour and creating easily the most expensive parking in the region.
The move is likely to see city centre businesses heavily hit as major customers, who usually drive, shift even more to suburban shopping complexes and bank branches, leaving the city centre to those who prefer or have to use buses. Over the last two decades almost all up-market shops have moved to the suburbs, while flea markets and small shops continue to proliferate in the city centre.
Harare City Council's parking unit, City Parking (Pvt) Ltd, announced the new pricing policy after the latest foreign currency auction.
According to the tariff changes, it means parking fees will be reviewed every week as the auction rate changes.
Using the official exchange rate, calculations show that parking in the central business district from 8am to 4pm will cost $504 a day, compared to say R50 in a busy part of Cape Town, and if the same motorist works 20 days a month, that would translate to $10 080 or US$160.
In an interview yesterday, City Parking public relations manager Mr Francis Mandaza said they had reviewed the street parking tariff to US$1 "to cushion ourselves against rising operational costs which are now pegged against US$.
"The Government has allowed goods and services to be billed in US dollars to allow those with hard currency to transact," he said.
Receipts would be given for the currency tendered to parking marshals. Few motorists buy parking for cash, preferring to use mobile money. There are fears that marshals offered foreign currency may receipt in local currency and fuel the black market by selling the foreign banknotes at a premium and pocket the difference.
City Parking is still to replace the recently scrapped option of paying for 30 minutes parking that was previously designed to cater for those who needed to park just to dash into a single office or shop.
While one will be paying $504 a day, equivalent to US$8, in Harare, elsewhere parking is a lot cheaper. In Zambia you can park for 5 Zambian Kwacha, the equivalent of $16.
In Namibia and Botsawana parking is for free in their cities. Motorists parking in Johannesburg at Sandton City shopping centre, probably the most exclusive in Africa, have two hours free within special areas on the roof, while outside and inside parking is R5/R6 for the first hour, R8/R10 for 3 hours and the daily rate is R20/R35.
Parking at Gardens Centre, Cape Town for the first hour is R5, 3 hours is R7 and the daily rate is R50.
Harare Residents Trust director Mr Precious Shumba said it is possible that parking marshals shall be persuaded to accept bribes from overburdened motorists resulting in low revenues for the City Parking.
"The likely scenario is that motorists would offer lower amounts of money to the parking marshal who will accept and pocket it for their personal use, thus increasing the depth of corruption in the system," he said.
"Alternatively, motorists would pay the US dollars but the parking marshals would convert it at the prevailing official rate and transfer the money into the City Parking account, thus still personally benefiting more than the company."
Mr Shumba said before rolling out new approaches, the City Parking authorities and the City of Harare should put in place tight monitoring systems that minimise corruption and abuse of the facility.
Faw Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Patrick Masocha said the new tariff "is not considering the fact that most employees earn local currency and have very low salaries".
Combined Harare Residents Association director Mrs Loreen Mupasiri-Sani said the review is reasonable from an economic point of view, however expressing concern on lack of transparency on how much funds were being remitted to council.
"The question from residents is what is the justification for this increase considering that there have not been any tangible service delivery projects financed from City Parking. This includes roads," she said.
"The City Parking Billing system is not consistent and many times motorists who would have paid for parking still find themselves owing, which is really frustrating and is also a form of extortion.
"Residents clearly understand the need to pay for any service but what fails to make sense to us is the failure to account and absence of service delivery results from the money collected."
Lawyers have already written to City Parking stating that the hike was unlawful, unreasonable and unfair.
"We further advise that your authority to charge for parking is derived from your contractual relationship with City of Harare, a public administrative institution which is subject to Section 68 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as read with the Administrative Justice Act (Chapter 10:28).
"We advise that the absence of mandatory consultation with motorists in general and residents in particular coupled with the notice period of a mere 24 hours is grossly unreasonable and unjust and is a recipe for self-help measures and unnecessary confrontation between your employees and motorists," said the lawyers.
However, wheel clamping and tow away which is managed directly by the local authority remains unchanged.
Light motor vehicle wheel clamping is $500, commuter omnibus 15-seater $600, $700 for an 18-seater, conventional buses and lorries are penalised $800 and articulated heavy lorries $900.
For tow away, light motor vehicle is $500, commuter omnibus 15-seater and 18-seaters is pegged at $700 and $800 respectively.