Too high for low-income workers

National 5 minutes, 12 seconds

BELAIT

EVERY morning, cars roll by sports fields, mosques and government buildings in and around the outskirts of the town centres of Seria and Kuala Belait to park.

The drivers get out of their cars and begin to walk towards town; a curious sight because it’s ten minutes to 8am and there's still plenty of parking around the shop houses.

Visitors from the capital point out the unusual practice, but the district’s residents shrug it off. These are employees not customers they say: “They can't afford parking. That’s about it”.

For those of lower income — parking in Belait’s town centres is simply too expensive.

The municipality in the area have a fixed, flat rate that’s stood since 1979 — 50 cents for half an hour or $80 a month for both KB and Seria.

There are also five strategic parking lots run privately by a single company, three in KB and two in Seria, but a recent survey reveals they charge the same amount.

To some, these private lots are even less cost-effective as $80 per month only allows you to park at one of the five lots. Others point out that even their lot in Seria facing HSBC — arguably the highest demanded — does not offer a monthly rate.

The private or municipal rate is rarely an issue for visitors, who have to come out with a dollar if they’re stopping by for lunch for an hour. But for those working eight hours, the amount adds up substantially.

A long-standing problem

Parking fees in the town centres of KB and Seria run from Monday through Saturday, 7.30am to 5.30pm. The municipal board rates are invariably uniform; no distinction is made between visitor or employees.

So an employee that’s parked in the town centre from 8am to 4pm is charged $8. If he works five days a week for a month, he can expect to be billed $160.

The municipality’s monthly rate of $80 starts to sound like a fair deal, but locals earning salaries in the region of $500 tell _The Brunei Times _that the parking rates are still too steep.

The municipal board also has prepaid coupons for daily use but they are still priced off the 50 cents for 30 minutes rule, offering no tangible discounts or benefits, over simply paying in advance.

“Whether we get the coupon or get the notis kesalahan we are still being charged (at a rate of) 50 cents for half an hour,” said Habri Hj Zamri, who works as a shop keeper.

More locally run businesses

The positions of chefs, waiters, attendants and assistants at eateries and retail outlets occupying the decades old buildings of KB and Seria have long been dominated by foreigners.

These workers often stay in staff houses together, and would be sent and picked up every day by the company.

Today, however, there are an increasing amount of new start-ups in the area; cube stores, fashion boutiques and cafés that employ locals that have to drive to work and start off with salaries typically below $1,000.

A young business owner from Seria whose situation represents the challenge facing locally run stores said securing monthly parking passes for all his staff would amount to half his rent.

“I’ve got a team of five so getting us all parking passes would cost $400 a month, which is half my store’s rent and totals to $4,800 a year,” said the owner who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

“The admin staff can be dropped off (by their siblings or parents) but our other staff have to go in and out and meet clients so they need to use their own car.”

Like many others in Seria, his team would park at Pusat Insani, a privately run recreational and community complex which has the town’s biggest parking space.

However the centre has recently installed security guards at entry points in the morning, only allowing those accessing at the complex to park.

“So we’ve (employees in Seria) gone back to parking right outside the town centres,” said an employee asking only to be named as Maliq. “I’ve also worked in KB before and situation is no different. It isn’t an issue when your salary is $2,000 and above, but when it's less than a thousand, $80 is a big deal.”

Why haven't the parking rates been adjusted?

A municipal officer, who declined to be named, said the rates set by the municipalities in Brunei are governed by legislation made possible under the power conferred by the Road Traffic Act under section 92.

In Belait, these allowed for the Road Traffic (Kuala Belait and Seria Municipal Board) (Parking Places) Rules to be set in 1979, and the 50 cents for 30 minutes and $80 per month rate — yet to be changed since.

Parking payment booths staff on duty in KB and Seria, said the parking system of the town centres may be privatised in the near future.

Asked why for a short period earlier this year, parking fees suddenly went missing; they responded by saying they were out of tickets.

The head municipal office in KB could neither confirm nor deny these plans or the shortage of tickets when contacted.

Still, not all feel that the parking fees are unreasonable, as some point out the rates to be much cheaper than in Singapore or other town centres of developed countries.

“Parking is a service, on a road, that requires maintenance,” said banker who pays the monthly rate to park in the area. “Sometimes the land is private, like certain commercial areas in Gadong and Kiulap, and the land owner chooses to absorb this maintenance cost to draw customers.

“But in the town centres of KB and Seria the parking area is on government land. So somebody has to pay for its maintenance.”

Another resident pointed out that abolishing fees entirely, would not result in the utopian situation some would expect it to be.

“That month where parking fees went missing, people were parking and leaving their cars indiscriminately. So unless new parking space is opened, we will still have a parking problem,” said Hj Mohd Jamil.

“Improving public transport can also be looked into. But fundamentally the rates should still be revised, and employees should definitely get a discount.”

The Brunei Times