Paid parking is now a reality in Georgetown. While some seem to have no issue with the new system, many are objecting. Observations over the last week have revealed many uninhabited parking spaces. Some have also noted that the there is less vehicular congestion. I have seen meter maids lingering near the meters or guarding the dreaded clamps. There are drivers who have already faced the penalty of having a clamp placed on their vehicles, including former president Donald Ramotar, who was said to have been parked illegally near Freedom House on Robb Street. Even a student of the Bishops’ High School was a victim of the dreaded clamp.
The social media outrage is in full effect, with many ongoing debates. There is also a small battle going on as it pertains to drivers versus non-drivers. Some people, especially those who support paid parking, believe that those who do not drive should not have a say about the cost or the circumstances surrounding implementation of parking meters. It is a point of view that makes some who sit behind the steering wheels appear snooty. It is also one that has brought to fore distinctions between the upper/middle class and the poor. But are we to assume that only the rich drive in Guyana? And are we to assume that one who does not drive now, never will? As Guyanese aren’t we supposed to stand in solidarity with each other even when an issue may not directly affect us? Are we just a talking people?
But why are people angry? Do we not want Guyana to be on par with much of the rest of the world–to show that we too have embraced this age where many of the luxuries we once enjoyed for free are now commercialised? The ‘good ole days’ are really now a thing of the past as the populace is required to spend more with little or no increase in their earnings. But must the city not make money to function effectively? During local government elections wasn’t paid parking one of the income generating mechanisms proposed by some candidates? Were we listening?
The issue, however, is not just the fact that people do not want to pay for parking, but one of the major concerns is the process through which it was implemented. Was the process transparent? Was there a feasibility study?
In a post on social media, Deputy Mayor Sherod Duncan listed reasons why he cannot support the project. Among them were that “The councilors had no hand in terms of the contract supporting the project” and that “There was a reluctance of the Mayor and Administration to share the content of said contract with councilors.”
The cost also is a point of contention for many people, especially those who may have to park for long hours daily. Two hundred dollars an hour daily can leave a hole in one’s pockets. I have heard it said that once people can afford to drive, they can afford to pay for parking. It is an assumption that ignores the fact that not everyone who drives is rich. Many people have made sacrifices to buy their vehicles for the sake of convenience. The public transportation system can be agonizing, especially because of the many arrogant bus drivers and conductors operating dancehalls on wheels. Not everyone wants to deal with that. I know people who have taken all the money they had in the bank to make the down payment on a vehicle. Many have car loan payments of over fifty thousand dollars a month, not to mention the other costs that comes with a vehicle, such as fuel, maintenance and insurance.
A driver raised the issue with me this week. He voiced questions, such as where are we heading? Where are the leaders that we can depend on to make it right for us? What will happen in 2020 when the central and local governments have disappointed us? He concluded that he may never vote again. As I listened to him, I thought here we go again with the talk.
Where are many of the people who are outraged about parking meters? Most are sitting in their homes, in their offices, on their phones, in their vehicles and on their computers. They are not out there confronting the powers that be.
Sherod Duncan has taken on protesting against the parking meters, even though he was one of the candidates who talked about them as an income generating mechanism for the city during the local government election campaign. But, “Transparency is the issue,” he said. “The end does not justify the means,” he also said.
While a few others have joined him in protest and a newly formed group called ‘The Movement Against Parking Meters,’ where are the others? Surely the number of people who do not want to pay or are upset about how it was implemented are more than the handful of people we have seen on the picket line. How are those who do not want to pay outraged and not out there standing in solidarity with those taking a stand? But isn’t that how it always is? Pickets in Guyana have mostly been scanty and often with the same faces. Some say that they do not like protest and their position is to be respected.
But what change does only talking about the issue bring about? Perhaps there is some power in the social media resistance. The fact that many of the parking spaces are unoccupied also reveals another form of passive resistance which is to be applauded.
Another form of resistance suggested was that citizens vandalise the parking meters. But what would happen when people get caught? It is irresponsible to instruct people to vandalise the parking meters, with no thought of the consequences. If one intends to start a movement I understand, but when one encourages individuals to commit criminal acts, it is reckless. The revolution cannot be a careless one. It must be carefully devised to be effective and change will only come about through perseverance.
I have concluded that we are a people that maybe like to spend time just talking about issues because we may think that we have little or no control over what happens. Many of us may also be afraid of confrontation. Maybe talking is a means of coping.
But isn’t it time for more of us to not only talk, but put actions to our words? Isn’t it time we stand together? It was time in 2015 when we had general elections and it was time when we had local government elections in 2016. It still is time.