This month will see 50 parking meters installed in one areaof the Beirut Central District. The pilot scheme, operatedby Near East Automatic Distributors (NEAD) in an $8 million,2.5-year, World Bank funded project, will then see a further10-20 on Charles Malik and Bliss streets and 50 more in thearea currently occupied by opposition campers. Althoughtargeting commercial areas, NEAD will eventually targetspecific residential zones to offer resident parking permitsin a system similar to that operated in London and othermajor cities.
“The number will eventually rise to 750 throughout Beirut,”says Chafic Sinno, NEAD’s managing director, “We will belocating them in the business districts, where we hope thecustomer will have the social wherewithal to understand andaccept the concept as something that is beneficial.”
The concept is simple. One main meter will dispense ticketsaccording to the “pay and display” system, with LL500 buying30 minutes and allowing a maximum stay period of twohours—perfect, Sinno believes, for the short-term parker.Customers who overstay their welcome will receive multiplefines—or citations—and further non-payment can result in a“booting” or immobilizing if the car is later spotted atother meter locations.
Drivers who think they can simply throw away the citationand disappear will be disappointed. Records are kept and,now that the mécanique renewal process is also under theauspices of the private sector, “wanted” drivers who haveoutstanding fines will not be able to renew their car papersuntil all debts have been cleared.
Handing out fines will be the responsibility of fieldoperators, all of whom will be accompanied by police, whosepresence—especially on the notoriously territorial BlissStreet running the length of the American University ofBeirut—will be welcome.
Those who have had run-ins with the often-threatening andintimidating parking attendants on Bliss might be skepticalabout NEAD’s chances of success on this busy,student-drenched thoroughfare. Even if they do contribute totraffic congestion, most businesses rely on double parkingfor their customers and, until now at least, the policehave, by and large, turned a blind eye.
Sinno is confident that the system will work and isrealistic about how people will react to the newrestrictions. “Listen, on Bliss Street, we will be flexible.We will not penalize very short term drivers if theyactivate their flashers, keep their windows down and ensuresomeone stays in the car,” he explains, adding that the jobwill become easier when the sidewalk is widened, a move thatshould make the street’s double parking culture impossible.He also insists that no one has been bought off in his bidto enforce parking.
“On Bliss, we are going head on,” he explains, “It will notbe easy. They [the shop keepers and restaurant owners] haveno idea we are coming and they will just have to deal withit. The police have been told that they too must cooperate.No one has been paid off. The orders have come from the verytop and we are receiving encouragement from all the seniormunicipal officials. In any case,” he laughs, “my marginsare too tight.”
Sinno confirmed that he had initially recruited 40 fieldoperators and that this number will rise to 150. He isconfident that if an operative is doing his job correctly,he should issue around 70 citations a day. In the firstyear, the government estimates it will generate revenues of$5 million, part of which will be given to NEAD—which hasbeen operating vending machines in universities, hospitalsand big offices for 12 years now—as its operating fee, andpart of which will be used to pay off the World Bank loan.