Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Drivers Suffer Parking Misery

Kabulis are finding it easier to walk than to try to park their vehicles.
By Abdul Baseer
Homayoun surveyed the damage done to his car with anger and dismay - one of its tyres had been punctured.



But it wasn’t the work of vandals. Instead, the flat tyre was the traffic police’s way of telling him his vehicle was illegally parked.



“I am going to sell my car and start walking or taking taxis,” sputtered Homayoun, after a 30-minute shouting match with traffic cops. “The police have punctured my tyres, they’ve taken my license plates and I’ve had to pay bribes to get them back, and my lights have been stolen many times. I have to get rid of it.”



As if driving in Kabul wasn’t bad enough, the city now has far too few designated parking areas to accommodate the 300,000 vehicles registered in the capital. The absence of clearly-marked parking areas means that drivers like Homayoun frequently find themselves in hot water.



“Even the police can’t tell you where it’s legal to park,” fumed Homayoun.



Colonel Mohammad Akbar, head of the planning and census branch of the national traffic directorate, agreed that the parking situation is reaching crisis point. The number of cars in the capital is growing at a rate of 200 per day, he said, stretching the city’s resources to the breaking point.



“Forty years ago, we had roads and parking for 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles,” he explained. Since then, Kabul’s infrastructure has seriously deteriorated in three decades of war and neglect.



"If situation keeps going like this, people may have to walk,” he said.



In addition to the soaring number of cars crowding into the capital, Akbar said the problem has been made worse by the massive reconstruction effort that has been going on in the capital since the fall of the Taleban. City planners failed to provide for parking spaces when they approved the new shops, apartment buildings and hotels now springing up in the capital, said Akbar.



“Construction of tall buildings without parking has created a big problem for the traffic control," added Akbar. “The builders should have come to us so we could set aside parking and explain the traffic regulations, but unfortunately no one has done this yet.”



Shir Agha Sediqi, a senior official at the ministry of urban development, blamed municipal officials for failing to cooperate with his agency when approving development projects.



But an official at the Kabul municipality, who did not want to be named, said that neither the city government nor the urban development ministry were really in control.



“Most of the high buildings you see in the city have been built based on personal relationships, or they have been put up by strongmen who use force instead of law,” alleged the official. “They go against the city’s master-plan. Neither the municipality, nor the urban ministry nor the police can say anything to the buildings’ owners.”



Most backers of the shiny new buildings going up in the capital declined to speak with IWPR. But the owner of the newly constructed Kabul City Centre shopping mall said that his company had allocated a parking area for staff and foreign guests.



“It is the government’s job to create parking spaces. I can’t make parking for all the vehicles in the city,” said Haji Abdul Qudus.



Esmatullah, a Kabul taxi driver, says there is plenty of parking as long as you’re willing to bribe the traffic police.



“I tried to park my car one day in a place where other cars were standing. But the traffic cop said no. When I pointed to the other cars, he said ‘Two of these cars belong to powerful people, and the others have given me money. You can park, too, if you pay’,” said Esmatullah.



“For the right price, you can park in from of [President Hamed] Karzai’s house,” he laughed. “The traffic police will take care of it.”



Ahmad Khan, 29, has found his way of protecting his white Toyota Corolla when it parks it in the city centre. He always brings a passenger along, to stay in the vehicle and prevent thieves from making off with his car’s lights and mirrors, and the traffic police from puncturing his tyres.



“Anyone who keeps a car in Kabul these days is just buying trouble,” he said.



Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.

More IWPR's Global Voices