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KRA changes tack as Nairobi parking cartels fight back

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Some motorists in Nairobi City County struggle to find parking along Banda Street on September 30, 2020. Cartels have taken advantage of the fight between NMS and KRA, running the parking of cars on some city streets. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

On May 11, 2021, a mid-morning row between a motorist and a group of Nairobi County officials over alleged non-payment of parking fees degenerated into a nasty violent clash that saw a mob smash a tow truck.

The motorist had been accused of not paying parking fees — a claim he denied, even as the City Hall officials tried to tow away his car, prompting intervention by the mob that had been following the drama.

Though the motorist escaped the towing attempt, such scenes have become common in the Nairobi central business district (CBD) as rogue City Hall officials collude with cartels to profiteer from illegal clamping and towing of cars.

“There are rogue parking attendants roaming the streets and will sometimes clump and tow away your car even when you have paid the parking fees. This is meant to create business for the privately owned towing trucks. As long your car has been towed you have to pay up the towing fees even if you have proof that you had paid for a parking slot,” says Paul Khaemba, a motorist.

Such complaints have become widespread as more motorists fell prey to the gangs who mainly pounce on them on the city’s Kimathi Street, Koinange Street, Wabera Street, Taifa Road, Simba Street and Mama Ngina Street.

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A breakdown pulls another green colored breakdown along University Way on May 11, 2021 which was involved in an accident along Kimathi Street. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Motorists have also encountered cases where they get text messages to pay for parking even when their cars had not been driven into the CBD.

“I know several people who get these messages to pay for parking even when they hadn’t driven their cars into the CBD. The danger with this is that your vehicle stands marked and would be towed away the next moment it is spotted within the CBD” added Mr Khaemba.

Apart from the private cars, the cartels also targeted digital-hailing taxis either dropping off or picking passengers at various points around the CBD. The gangs routinely force the taxi drivers to part with bribes or have their vehicles towed away.

Spooked by a rising public outcry about the rogue parking attendants, the taxman, which took over the collection of parking fees on behalf of City Hall has now moved to rein in the cartels and ordered officials to provide pictorial evidence of non-compliant vehicles.

“The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Nairobi City County government have received numerous complaints from motorists disputing penalties imposed for failure to pay parking fees.

“In order to address these complaints, parking attendants in county uniform will henceforth photograph number plates of non-compliant motor vehicles for reference purposes in case of disputes,” the taxman said in a public notice.

And in another move aimed at taming the cartels, the KRA said physical VIP parking stickers issued last year are null and void. Some rogue officials had profiteered through the issuance of fake VIP parking stickers.

“The 2021 annual VIP authorised vehicles are now being managed through the Nairobi Revenue System parking. Physical VIP parking stickers will no longer be recognised. KRA parking attendants will henceforth use querying devices to confirm the compliance status of such vehicles” the taxman added.

The KRA last year took over the mandate of collecting all levies and taxes paid to City Hall for two years up to March 16, 2022.

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To avoid adding to the congestion in the central business district, matatus park at the Globe Roundabout on December 14, 2020 during off-peak hours. PHOTO | NMG

The management of parking services in Nairobi has been problematic over the years as cartels carted away billions of shillings meant for City Hall annually.

Revenue from parking fees is divided into four cluster streams, including on-street and off-street parking, public service vehicles (PSVs) seasonal tickets and loading zones for purposes of easy collection of revenue.

The parking department has 396 attendants and 56 inspectorate officers. But instead of carrying out enforcement, the officers have become fierce “cartels” who have turned the money-spinning revenue stream into a fiefdom.

There are 12,000 parking slots declared by City Hall. Out of this, 3,250 have been allocated to MCAs, county staff and diplomats.

Loading zone — the parking reserved for government agencies and small and medium enterprises for loading and off-loading goods for one calendar year for a defined fee — have taken up 1,601 slots.

Matatus, paying seasonal tickets, have been allocated 1,024 slots leaving 6,125 private motorists.

A 2020 report by Nairobi County Assembly’s Budget and Appropriations Committee laid bare how parking attendants are colluding with motorists to deny the county government billions of shillings.

The report revealed that Sh437,500 was lost every day from on-street parking alone, with many motorists parking in the city centre without paying any fee to City Hall.

A 2019 report by Nairobi Assembly Public Accounts Committee revealed that in the financial year ending June 30, 2017, a total of 1,305,440 vehicles parked in the 6,125 slots during the financial year but only 402,401 or 31 percent paid for parking.

City Hall collected a paltry Sh1.55 billion in parking revenue in the financial year ended June 30, 2020, against a target of Sh2.8 billion. This represented a performance of 53 percent.

In the current financial year, City Hall had realised a measly Sh4.1 billion (24.8 percent) by the end of the first half of the financial year ending June 30, 2021, against an annual target of Sh16.5 billion.

During the period, parking fees had returned Sh685 million of the annual target of Sh2.8 billion, representing 24.5 percent of the target.

City Hall last year revealed plans for hourly parking charges within the CBD.

County finance and economic planning chief officer Halkano Waqo said the hourly charges would help boost revenue and deal with choking traffic, which costs motorists time and fuel.

The hourly rates are yet to be set and would be subject to approval by the county assembly before implementation.

Motorists are currently charged Sh200 daily parking fee to park in the city centre.

Like other world cities that are becoming more congested, the direct and indirect costs of parking have become a nuisance for motorists and policymakers in Nairobi who often have differing goals.

While drivers want cheap, abundant parking spots, City Hall is grappling with ways of discouraging congestion and maximising fee collections besides cutting air pollution.