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January 20, 2019

G-Spot: Paying for the privilege of parking your car in Nairobi through the ages

Parking lot opposite Kenya Re in Nairobi
Parking lot opposite Kenya Re in Nairobi

P

arking in Nairobi has always been a bit of an adventure (some might say nightmare). 

Back in the 1970s and 80s, City Council (and later City Commission) parking bays and each space had a coin-operated parking meter. If memory serves me well, the longest time you could score on a parking meter was two hours. After that, you the driver, or someone you sent to do it, would have to feed more coins into the meter, especially if, like many users in the CBD, you would be parked in the same spot from 8am to 5pm.

Because it is in the nature of some Kenyans to be scamsters, whether they are government officials or private citizens, there were people who discovered ways of stealing the cost of parking from the council by short-circuiting the meters using  a car ignition key. Of course that was when all cars had an ignition key. 

I learned about this scam from the office factotum at my mother’s firm one school holiday, when I was hanging around the place. He enjoyed his cigarettes, but didn’t always have cash in hand to purchase a smoke. So when asked to dash downstairs to feed the meter, he would take the spare car keys, which were kept in the office, and shove it into the parking meter which would behave as if it had been fed a coin.

I had a flashback to those days during my recent trip to Nairobi, when I had to learn to pay for  parking using my telephone and mobile money transfer facility.

Being unaware of the new fangled methods in use today (the last time I parked in a public parking bay in Nairobi is nearly a decade ago), I parked my vehicle and began to search for the nearest county parking officer. 

I remembered they used to stay out of sight and then come and clamp your car when you hadn’t paid for the privilege of parking in the CBD or wherever. Eventually I found one and while explaining I couldn’t afford the time wasted with parking fines and clamps, I reached for my wallet to give her cash.

It was then, managing to get a word in edgeways, that she explained to me that parking in the city no longer involved cash and the whole affair would be performed using my phone and the council’s eJijiPay platform. 

It was all remarkably efficient, but I couldn’t help thinking that this new service is going to surely eliminate a whole category of street life — those whom in South Africa we call car guards.

But then again, I suppose that is the price of what some refer to as “progress”. Perhaps this is one innovation that South African authorities may want to copy. 

Had things been reversed and this had been a South African innovation, I can imagine this would be when travel agents would be very busy arranging tours of cities across SA for Kenyan legislators and their infamous benchmarking trips.

Fortunately for the long-suffering Nairobi ratepayers, these wasteful trips have been parked for the time being.

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