Motorists in the country’s main cities are becoming increasingly frustrated by lack of parking slots, with poor enforcement of regulations enabling corporate and parastatal firms to dominate the few that are available.
A Weekend Nation excursion this week found that some motorists drive around for close to an half hour looking for parking space as the few available are hogged by vehicles of parastatal chiefs and other corporate executives.
Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu all have one thing in common—tight and chaotic on-street parking and virtually no parkades specially designed to host motor vehicles in the cities.
This, in turn, is exacerbating traffic congestion in central business districts (CBDs) because a large number of cars are snaking around the streets in search of parking spaces.
In Blantyre on Wednesday, for instance, parking slots on the entire stretch of Chilembwe Avenue—from Dossani Trust through FDH Bank to Chilembwe Lodge—were occupied by vehicles for the better part of the day, leaving bank customers little room for parking.
The situation is worse on Victoria Avenue where many of the parking slots are blocked with cones and reserved for some corporate executives while other motorists are forced to park on sidewalks and kerbs.
In random interviews, motorists blamed the city councils of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu for not enforcing underground parking and not doing enough to ensure that motorists have enough spaces to park their cars in major streets.
Dalitso Joshua, a Ndirande Township-based motorist, said life is increasingly becoming difficult for motorists in Blantyre and city authorities need to act quickly to ease congestion.
He said it is disheartening that the Blantyre City Council (BCC) has allowed most of the 1 250 parking space to be taken up by firms and to be run as private parking slots for staff.
Concurring with Joshua, Mzuzu-based motorist Chimango Kumwenda said the problem of parking is also getting worse in the fast-developing city in the North.
“Ours is a relatively new city but we can already see signs that in the next few years things will get out of hand. It is as if there are no city master plans that are to be followed.”
The sentiments are also shared by Timothy Kalongosola, a taxi driver based in Lilongwe: “It is hell here in Lilongwe. Traffic issues are a headache almost in every part of the city starting from Old Town you cannot just find space to park during peak hours because there is no space.”
He said city councils need to intervene to solve the problem before it gets out of hand.
“What motorists are facing is indescribable injustice. You have to circle round the city to find a parking slot. We lose time and fuel and especially during peak hours, when congestion is at its worst. The problem is that there have been no upgrades, these parking lanes were designed when the number of vehicles was smaller,” said Kalongosola.
BCC spokesperson Anthony Kasunda conceded that parking problems have been compounded by corporate positioning in the city.
“Most corporates are indeed should have been used by other motorists. The issue became compounded with the moving of Escom into Umoyo House after their head office was gutted by fire in 2013,” he said.using the parking spaces that
Kasunda explained that the expansion of FDH Bank in Umoyo House and ex-MSB Building also added to the already existing problem.
“The challenge came about because Umoyo House and many other buildings do not have basement parking lots for use by its occupants. The requirement now is that all structures coming up in all our CBDs should provide ample parking lots for use by its users and those that have direct business with the building.”
On her part, Lilongwe City Council spokesperson Tamara Chafunya said it is illegal in the capital city to dominate parking slots.
“It is not acceptable for any company to have dominance over public parking spaces. Any plots outside any shop, institution or company plots is public space,” she said.
Chafunya said, for example, the Old Town parking spaces are for public use and it is wrong for shop owners to place cones to block other users or let alone reserve for private use unless the parking space is within a private specific plot.
She explained that the council is working on a plan to utilise road reserves to provide what is called ‘on street parking’. On street parking is where open spaces are utilised to create parking space.
But a planning and construction expert based at the Polytechnic in Blantyre, Edward Chikhwenda, called for a change of approach by councils to avoid further chaos.
He said in an e-mailed response: “With this regard to city councils, they should be encouraged to monitor the implementation of all the approved plans in order to have adequate parking space in our CBDs. In countries where there are public buses, councils have designated parking areas where people can park their vehicles and then use public transport to the CBDs.