Fidelis Munyoro-Chief Court Reporter
A Harare lawyer has taken the parking company to court challenging the calculation of parking fees in one-hour blocks regardless of whether the motorist is parking for less time, alleging violation of consumer rights to choose services of preferred choice without any undue influence from the local authority.
The on-street parking fee in Harare is US$1 an hour, or part of an hour, or the local currency equivalent at the prevailing interbank rate.
Non-payment can lead to clamping.
Mr James Majatame, a senior partner at James Majatame Attorneys at Law, filed the lawsuit against City Parking Company and Harare City Council, alleging the $700 per hour is in direct violation of motorist rights since City Parking demands this even if a motorist parks a vehicle for just 10 minutes, and demands a full payment of a whole extra hour if the motorist is just a few minutes over the full hours paid for.
In the application filed at the High Court, Mr Majatame wants an order declaring the calculation of parking fees in one-hour blocks to be unconstitutional and ordering City Parking to provide more options to their parking services.
He wants steps of 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 60 minutes.
The lawsuit arose on Monday, when Mr Majatame parked his vehicle along Nelson Mandela Avenue near the intersection with Patrice Lumumba Street.
He was approached by City Parking marshal Liason Meke who demanded that the lawyer should pay for parking.
The lawyer complied and indicated that he would park his car for a period of 30 minutes since he was not going to take long.
But the parking marshal said the marshals were not allowed to bill for any period less than one hour, stressing that the position is absolute and that’s the “law” as directed by his employer.
In his application, Mr Majatame argues that billing in one-hour blocks is not in terms of the law and now wants the option to pay for half an hour to be considered alongside the option to pay for one hour.
“It is not fair, illegal and extortionist for the respondents to charge me for a one-hour parking period when in actual fact I am only parking for 10 minutes just to dash into my office and then move my vehicle like what I intended to do on the day in question,” he argues.
“The parking marshal ignored my reasoning, rather he went on to threaten that if I don’t pay he has the right to clamp my motor vehicle.”
Despite his protest, the parking marshal went on to bill him $700 for one hour and he was left with no option, but to pay, begrudgingly, to avoid having his car clamped.
“As an interested party in the form of a consumer for the parking services provided by the City Parking, there is need for the court to declare that the arbitrary parking fees of one-hour is in violation of my right as a consumer to choose services of my preferred choice without any undue influence or cohesion from the respondents,” he argues.
“The option to pay for half an hour enhances my choices as the consumer of the respondents parking services and there is no reason why that option is not provided.”
The State law, however, prohibits service providers from using physical force, coercion, undue influence, duress, harassment or unfair tactics against consumers in sale of their services and in this case, Mr Majatame argues that what the parking services providers are doing is in contrast with the requirements of the law.
“Against this background of consumer rights violation, the mandatory one-hour parking fee is tainted with illegality from the onset and this goes to the root of the contractual agreement between me, the consumer of the parking services and service providers which in this case are the respondents and ultimately it renders it void ab initio (from the onset),” he said.
“It is my firm belief that City Parking has no right to act in the manner it did.
“The conduct of the respondents is appalling, extortionist and self-enriching, and I call upon the court to retain order in the market place.”
Mr Majatame further argues that if not stopped by the court, the City Parking company will continue to have one hour as their standard minimum parking fee to his detriment and many other motorists.
To this end, the lawyer says there is a reasonable chance that the “deceitful and self-enriching” conduct of the respondents in this regard could result in him being forced to pay for a service that he will not consume to the fullest.
Both the City Parking Company and Harare City Council are yet to file their responses to the declaratory order sought.