Unfree parking

The Tel-Aviv municipality handles the administration of organized parking lots through a municipal company, Ahuzat Ha’hof (Roughly translated as “The Beach Mansion”). This company is in charge of the proper operation of the parking lots according to the city regulations, and to contracting out individual lots to subcontractors.

The regulations leave it up to them, and the contractors, to determine the operating hours of each individual lot. The condition is that on the hours where they don’t operate a lot (By putting a person there, to monitor entrance and charge for parking) they must leave it open for free public use.

A policy which actually makes sense. The lots will be free on the hours where there are not enough potential clients to make it worth for the contractor to pay workers, while the people who do look for parking will not have to go look elsewhere while there’s a whole empty parking lot nearby.

And this last is something which sadly does happen in many places where it’s less regulated. You can sometime see cars doing the rounds looking for parking, while there’s a large area that could have held them all, with a locked gate. Not entirely unreasonable from the lot operator’s perspective, though, since they do incur maintenance costs on the lot operation, even when it’s freely open. Even just the usual wear, and the potential for damage that people will cause the unattended lot, costs money on average.

One big problem that occurs with leaving parking lots open while not having well defined working hours, is that it’s not immediately obvious if the lot is open or not. When you go to park the car, and someone is standing at the entrance and charging, it’s not obvious if they’re official employees of the parking lot, or not. There are quite a lot of cases where other people take advantage, standing in front of those parking lots while they’re supposed to be free, and pretending to work there.

On occasions it can be obvious. Some of the parking lots have some sort of small shacks where the workers sit. So if someone is sitting outside, while the shack is locked and the lights are out, they’re cheating. Most people, however, are not very observant. Sad, but true. Plus, many of these places either don’t bother locking this shack properly, or simply don’t have one, so this cannot always be used as an indication.

The end result being that this sort of thing is far from rare. And they usually get away with it just fine, since nobody, or at least nobody official like the police, seems to care. People complain, on the few cases they realize they’ve been had, but it doesn’t get anything done.

Usually it doesn’t, anyway.

A few days ago there was a supposedly big sports game of some sort (As you can surmise, I’m not a big sport fan). And the parking lot, belonging to this same company, was officially out of the working hours and so open for free public use. Except that some entrepreneurial spirit saw the golden opportunity, and decided to sell parking tickets. Which worked well enough for most of the evening, until someone noticed something was fishy and raised hell.

Since there were a lot of people there, and sport events get noticed, this got noticed this time as well. The matter was, at long last, brought to official attention, be it the police or the municipality. They finally deigned to realize that the problem exists, and that something should be done.

Now, what I’d have thought a normal person would do, when confronted with a problem of thieves posing as official parking lot operators and swindling the public, is to try and figure out ways to catch the people who do these things, and discourage this from happening, so people won’t pay when it’s supposed to be free.

But that wasn’t the case, not in real life. Because, well, what bothered them wasn’t that people paid when they shouldn’t. No, it was that the people paid to the wrong party. So they made a new regulation to solve the problem. The decision is that when there are major events taking place near an official parking lot, the parking lot operator is bound to keep the lot working during the event, and charge for it themselves. Just like if it was during their normal working hours, and they’d have made a decision to keep the parking lot running at that time.

There, problems solved. Nobody will be in a position where they pay a thief when they could have parked for free.

Now they’ll pay an official contractor who otherwise wouldn’t even be interested in being there and charging there. No more chance of parking freely near such events, as was mostly possible so far.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

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