More than half of on-street parking fees in Ho Chi Minh City that are supposed to be collected through a smart parking system have instead gone into the pockets of the employees responsible for looking after the parking spaces.
The city’s transport department and military-run mobile carrier Viettel in October 2017 began rolling out a pilot program that allowed car drivers to find a parking lot and pay parking fees on several streets in the downtown areas using their mobile phone.
The smart system operates through a mobile app that collects information about the time a car enters and leaves a parking space in order to calculate the fee, which can be paid either by bank transfer, via SMS or by cash through fee collectors available at the site.
The parking system was officially launched on August 1 on 23 streets in Ho Chi Minh City, with drivers no longer permitted to pay with cash.
The calculation of parking fees was also changed, making it increasingly expensive to park for longer hours.
Drivers’ reluctance to adapt to the new technology, coupled with an aversion to high parking rates, has created an opportunity for parking lot employees to earn some ‘pocket money’.
At a smart parking space on Hai Ba Trung Street in District 1 on Thursday morning, no sooner had a taxi driver pulled his vehicle over into an available slot than a ‘fee collector’ showed up asking how long he wanted to park there.
After learning that the driver wanted to park for roughly an hour, the employee told him to pay VND25,000 (US$1.07) in cash and not to book the parking space with the mobile app.
“I’m just trying to earn some coffee money here, you see,” said the fee collector, who is employed by the district’s urban order watchdog.
“If you book with the app, all the money goes into the state budget. We have no share in it,” he said.
According to the employee, he only has the early hours of each morning to earn something for himself before his supervisors go to work.
|A parking space using the smart parking system on Le Lai Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Many drivers have no issue with the unofficial fee collection method, since they would rather pay a flat rate up front than being charged over the moon for overtime parking if they play by the book.
At another parking space on Phan Chu Trinh Street in District 1, a fee collector ensured drivers that he could find ways to cover up cameras installed to monitor parking activities, so there would be no need to worry about being fined by authorities.
The shady fee collectors even go as far as threatening drivers who refuse to comply with their demand.
“I will give you 15 minutes to install the app, or I will write you a ticket for illegal parking,” a fee collector on Ngo Duc Ke Street in District 1 challenged a driver after he asked whether it was possible to make a mobile payment instead of cash.
According to the municipal Department of Transport, the city has reported a loss of up to 60 percent of smart parking fees since the system was officially launched on August 1.
A mere VND220 million ($9,400) in parking fees was collected on 23 streets over 20 days, or an equivalent of less than VND500,000 ($21) per street per day.
Overall, the department estimates that nearly VND500 million ($21,400) of state money is lost each month, either into the pockets of fee collectors or through other methods that drivers employ to avoid paying parking fees.
According to Ngo Hai Duong, a transport official, drivers currently have two options of paying on-street parking fees on 23 downtown streets that are part of the smart parking program.
They can pay through the ‘My Parking’ mobile application developed by Viettel and via an SMS sent to 1008.
Duong added that the transport department has no authority over the fee collectors, as they are employed by local administrations’ urban order watchdogs.
“We have informed local authorities of the issue during meetings,” he said.