Any student who owns a car in Grahamstown is careful to pack a little extra change for the car guard toll before heading on a shopping trip. But what exactly happens to the money when it leaves the driver’s hands, and what are we paying for? Lauren Granger investigates.
Driving down High Street, steering the car into a parking bay and wandering off into the closest shop is an almost daily occurrence for many Grahamstown drivers. The ‘car guard’ sits quietly a few metres away, recording the car’s registration number. From the second the driver manoeuvres their car into that parking bay and pulls their handbrake up, they’re paying the car guard’s salary.
But these orange-bibbed men and women are not ‘car guards’, they are employees of Diversified Parking Systems (DPS), a company employed by the Makana Municipality to cut down on traffic in central Grahamstown. They’re not paid to protect the cars, although they act as a deterrent for potential thieves. “You pay for parking, not protection,” confirms Alroy Botha, a parking attendant. Tariffs discourage drivers from parking their cars on High Street for the entire day and taking up limited parking spaces, explains Julius Paul, operations manager of DPS Grahamstown. Paul says this measure creates many jobs, assists the community and helps a lot with the congestion.
Being forced to part with spare change on a regular basis is frustrating for some, especially when the only notification is a tiny sign displaying outdated tariff prices. For every 15 minutes that a car is parked in High Street, DPS charges the driver 50 cents. “My friend and I timed our trip once,” says Shannon Fagan, a first year. “The prices are ridiculous; she had to pay the car guard R1 for our 17 minute stop.”
However, while parking costs may be a lot lower than those in bigger cities such as Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, the payment definitely isn’t optional. If drivers can’t afford or refuse to pay the tariff, the parking attendant simply has to mark “non-payment” into their portable machine. These handheld parking meters store the car’s registration number, the duration of the driver’s stay and the amount they were supposed to pay.
At the end of every working day, all the information is downloaded in the DPS offices and kept on file. “If there are people who don’t pay, it shows me,” explains Paul. The details of cars whose owners don’t pay the tariffs are sent to the Makana Municipality Traffic Department.
Paul encourages drivers to park in places where there aren’t any parking attendants, such as New Street. This serves the interests of both parties concerned as it helps to regulate the traffic flow while providing drivers with a free place to park. But in some cases, the parking regulations have diverted customers all the way to African Street. “I’d much rather go to Peppergrove Mall now,” says student driver Terri Adendorff. “Parking is free and more secure there.” The simple fact is that if High Street regulars don’t want to pay for anything other than their shopping, they’re going to have to start walking.