Last Saturday, things turned ugly for a 59-year-old British expat who set out to enjoy a quiet dinner in Qawra. Mitch Farrow, whose only crime was obeying the instructions set out by government approved placards, was allegedly assaulted by a parking attendant for refusing to pay a voluntary donation to the parker in question.
The ridiculous behaviour of parkers has been a sore point with many Maltese people for a long time. After years of complaints, 7th November 2014 saw Transport Malta finally affix placards around Malta’s numerous public car parks, informing patrons that despite the long established practice, persons parking their own car in public spaces did not need to pay the car park attendants.
Just under two weeks later, a story about the outrage of car park attendants began doing the rounds in Malta. Coincidentally, readers were also informed that a ‘heavy storm’ had conveniently uprooted the newly installed signs and promptly deposited them in the nearby sea. Strong winds, huh?
"In the unfortunate experience of many Maltese, the greatest threat to the safety of your car is the parker himself."
In a statement issued by Transport Malta they made it clear that while any gratuities received by the parker were his for the keeping, this payment was voluntary. Nonetheless, a cursory search through Maltese Facebook's go-to ‘The Salott’ will reveal numerous threads in the same vein. “Do we have to pay the parker?” The answer remains a big, fat, no.
The definition of voluntary is something done of one’s own free will. Being intimidated or bullied into handing over money is not quite evocative of free will. Fear of having your car scratched or your tires put down would not fall under this either. Nor would paying the parker because you would rather avoid having all your living and dead family members insulted make such payment voluntary in nature.
Though Transport Malta's statement says that ‘the car park attendant is not permitted to require persons making use of the car park to pay him for his services’, parkers regularly step in front of your car and refuse to move out of the way until you have wound down your window and given them “their” money.
So what exactly are you paying for? How does the system work?
A person wishing to apply for a car park attendant’s license must submit an application to Transport Malta and, upon approval, pay the princely annual sum of €11.65. He is given permission to stake a claim on public land and given specific times within which he may operate. The car park attendant is responsible for the cleaning of the parking site during the time he is operating the car park. He is also required to use all care and diligence to ensure the orderly entry, parking and exit of vehicles in any car park under his charge, and to prevent all thefts from, or damage to, such vehicles; Furthermore, where a theft or damage has actually occurred, he is bound to write down the number plate and present it to the police.
As the Maltese saying goes: “IJWEHE”.
When car parks like Il-Foss in Mdina, the Ditch in Valletta, and the car park in Floriana take hundreds of cars, what are the chances of the parker noticing your car being knocked and bothering to write it down? More so when the parker is not held responsible for any damage done to the car? In the unfortunate experience of many Maltese drivers, the greatest threat to the safety of your car, or your person as yesterday’s article showed, is the parker himself who has not accepted that he does not actually own the public land in question and thus has no claim to any reimbursement for the use of it.
Being a parker is a lucrative business. According to a 2012 report, a certain parker was estimated to make as much as €1000 a day. This parker insists on a minimum payment of €2 per car - to park in an empty spot on public land. Many car parks have special prices for tourists who are often charged €4-5 to park there.
Reports of abuse are continuous and unrelenting. In February 2016 Transport Malta reported that in the previous six months they had suspended two attendants and fined a number of others for abusive behaviour. Just yesterday, a parker in Qawra was suspended indefinitely, pending investigation, after he attacked a 59 year old Briton who refused to cough up a donation.
The question is, what makes parkers believe that they are untouchable? The general feeling is that despite its promises of surveillance and crackdowns, Transport Malta does not have the teeth and/or is not willing to remove those abusing of their 'power'.
Despite its questionable effectiveness, the only legal way to curb abuse is to immediately file a police report and phone 80072393 to report the parker to Transport Malta. According to subsidiary legislation 65.11, article 65 (6), Transport Malta may only issue a license if that person proves that he is of good character and is fit to carry out his duties. Furthermore, according to article 65 (14) (b) and (c) a car park attendant’s license can be suspended, revoked or refused renewal if he has committed a crime or if it is proven that he has misbehaved or misconducted himself while on duty.
Is there even a real need for car park attendants or is this government sanctioned appropriation and extortion? Knowing how to park is a prerequisite to passing your driver’s license test. Being able to see is also quite an important factor. How do we continue to justify forking over money to be allowed to park our own car, in a public space (for which we pay road tax), at our own risk?
Some have argued that without car park attendants there would be a free for all with people getting blocked in by selfish drivers. I can’t accept this argument. Just as I don’t need anyone to point out empty parking spaces and help me park when I park all over the rest of the country, nor do I feel we need parkers to keep drivers in line in the remits of a car park - that is what wardens are paid for.
Parking boxes should be painted to encourage regular parking and badly parked cars should be fined as they are across the rest of country. Different rules need not apply. Contrary to popular belief, public car parks do not operate under a different jurisdiction.
The system is outdated that needs to be revised. If the worry is that car parks attract a lot of crime, then install parking barriers at the entrance and have patrons pay a nominal fee which can be used to maintain the road and to fit in CCTV cameras and proper lighting to monitor the area. As it stands we are propagating a culture of entitlement, where might is right and fear of retribution forces people to part with money for a complete non-service. End the cycle. Stop paying protection money to people who have no right to demand it. They can’t scratch all our cars, can they?