Fifteen city councillors voted yesterday in favour of accepting the recommendations of the parking meter renegotiation committee, which would see a reduction in parking fees to $150 per hour, exemptions for religious organisations and schools, and Smart City Solutions (SCS) giving up on their claim to garage parking.
The vote took place last evening at an extraordinary statutory meeting of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), which was called to review the recommendations of the committee’s report and vote on the way forward in regards to the metered parking project.
The recommendations were opposed by only four councillors—Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikarran, former Deputy Mayor, Sherod Duncan and PPP/C councillors Bhishram Kuppen and Khame Sharma. Two councillors abstained from the vote.
“Now that we’ve agreed that the recommendations of the renegotiation committee be part of the contract, I would expect that the Town Clerk do the necessary work and those documents come before us…the new amendments to the contract will come before us and we will move forward,” Mayor Patricia Chase-Green said afterwards.
The new recommended fee structure is $150 per hour and $800 for 8 hours of parking, which, unlike the previously existing fees, are inclusive of VAT. The parking fee had been set at $50 for every 15 minutes up to 6 hours and $175 for every 15 minutes within garage parking spaces, also up to six hours per transaction.
The exemptions for religious organizations and schools, it was noted, are limited, and institutions would have to write to SCS asking for consideration for the exemptions.
It was also recommended that residential parking passes be issued for parking from 5-7pm Monday to Friday, with Saturday being free all day and that the pass being restricted to the area the person resides.
Additionally, persons would pay for time rather than the parking slot, and in this way, time can be transferred from one space to another until the time on the card has been used up or the card has expired.
In terms of booting of vehicles for parking violations, there would be no booting until three months have elapsed, following which, failure to pay up to three violations would result in vehicles being booted, towed, and “if necessary” the sale of the vehicle after 60 days of storage (rather than 30 as initially proposed).
While the consultations between the committee, the city and Smart City Solutions saw the concessionaire bending on several fronts, what has not changed is the 20/80 share that will result from the partnership.
But according to Chairman of the committee Akeem Peter, the 20-80% share has been misrepresented as a profit share when it is in fact a share of the gross.
He related that a representative of SCS had in fact made an offer of a 50/50 profit split, but after consultation, it was decided that the deal was not a good one as there was the possibility of the company inflating its expenses. As a result, the offer was rejected.
When it was originally announced in 2016, the parking meters deal faced broad condemnation which led to a boycott of the metered parking spaces and weekly protests outside of City Hall. Only a fraction of the projected revenues were earned. Last year March, the project was officially suspended by the Local Government Ministry for further consultations to be held by the city and this process concluded with the report now before council.
Why not wait until the courts decide?
“This is just a sham. This is preordained… MAPM has said from the get go that this thing needs to be revoked, it’s illegal, why not wait until the courts decide. It’s simple. Why tie yourself up?” representative of the Movement against Parking Meters (MAPM) Don Singh said yesterday after the meeting ended last night.
MAPM has been protesting the legality of the contract between SCS and the city since metered parking was implemented.
“I have a lot of respect for Akeem Peter, he’s a great future leader but he says he doesn’t wanna get involved in finance but then proceeds to tell us exactly how the split will work … and give us all the details but then when he has to view the documents as recommended by Malcolm Ferreira in the report, financial statements, feasibility studies, all of the above, he recuses himself and leaves it to finance committee chairman Oscar Clarke who went on a due diligence trip four days after signing,” Singh added.
He noted his disappointment, and related that if metered parking is forced upon the public, protests will resume.
Singh is not the only one who made reference to the sub judice nature of the matter as an argument for why amendments to the contract should not be made. From the onset, councillors indicated their disapproval.
Deputy Mayor Jaikarran started the ball rolling with a prepared speech describing his feelings on the contract, which he maintained should be scrapped and the process restarted.
While he agreed that parking meters along with what he described as “proper traffic management” could alleviate the traffic in central George-town, Jaikarran declared that he does not believe that “smart city is the solution.”
Furthermore, he noted that as the matter is still before the courts, the council should “let lady justice prevail.”
“It is not a good contract, it was never a good contract,” Kuppen declared, stating that not even the “superficial amendments” will help, and called for a revocation of the contract by councillors.
Kuppen also called out the Chairman on the financial committee Clarke based on the minutes presented in the report, for recommending that time not be spent in respect to discussing the legality of the contract.
“It is a legally binding contract,” Clarke emphasized in rebuttal, adding that for this reason he thought it fit not to waste time on discussing the contract’s legality.
Kuppen had also indicated that he thought the council would examine the Ministry of Public Infrastructure’s transportation plan and work along with the ministry.
Among the general complaints last evening were that the committee’s reports were delivered late (around 6 pm on the evening prior) and so councillors did not have a chance to examine them thoroughly or as councillor Alfred Mentore stated, take it to his constituency for consultation.
Mentore was one of the councillors who abstained from the vote, the other being councillor Geoffrey Fraser.
The council was also accused of rushing the process and having an agenda, with councillor Sharma even claiming that the M&CC had already budgeted money they expected to get from metered parking this year.
None of the councillors were opposed to metered parking as expressed in their presentations, but there is discord in whether the contract should be allowed to stand. Councillor Duncan called SCS a “sham” company during his impassioned delivery before the council last night.
But on the other hand, councilor Monica Thomas accused persons of wanting only to see the council fail, as she made reference to a popular business place implementing charges for patrons over the holidays, which she pointed out was not met with protests.