The Hospital Parking Debate in Kenya
Major private hospitals in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, have been charging car parking fees for a while now, but some legislators at the country’s Senate and the Nairobi County Assembly want the fees reviewed or abolished altogether.
A proposal to regulate parking operations in hospitals, shopping malls and other private properties, is yet to be implemented.
Debate on parking charges at private hospitals was recently revived by Ms. Anne Thumbi, a member of the Nairobi County Assembly, who argued the parking fee for patients and visitors to these hospitals amounts to taxing the sick and increases the cost of medical care.
“Some of the private hospitals even charge per hour, which is unfortunate, especially for patients,” said Ms. Thumbi. “The policy will assist to avert exploitation by owners of premises through high parking fees when patients and the general public visit such premises for services.”
Currently, the top five private hospitals in Nairobi City include Nairobi Hospital, MP Shah, Mater, Aga Khan University, Karen and Gertrude Children’s.
Government hospitals such as Kenyatta National Hospital, the biggest referral hospital in East and Central Africa, do not charge a parking fee, although there is no regulation that bars it from doing so.
Meanwhile, at Nairobi Hospital, staff, patients and visitors who park at the institution’s more than 700 parking slots are allowed free parking if they stay for less than 30 minutes. The charges for parking between one hour and four hours range from $0.46 to $1.92. If the parking exceeds four hours, the charges are $0.46 for every added hour.
German firm Scheidt & Bachmann is operating the parking systems through their Kenya-based partner PayTech Africa. The company, which has more than 22,000 Parking Systems installed globally, has deployed its “entervo” brand with integrated, modular general solutions consisting of up-to-date JAVA software and innovative equipment.
PayTech previously said the entervo system allows automated, as well as customer friendly, self-service options, hence improving customer service at the hospital’s parking lot.
“Motorists now enjoy a comfortable entry and exit through the use of various media such as tickets and License Plate Recognition and several automatic pay stations have simplified customer payment options,” the company said of the parking services at the Nairobi Hospital.
“The entervo system offers flexible reporting tools that allow stakeholders to reliably analyze their parking products in conjunction with their statistically significant aspects,” it added.
Other private hospitals may have different rates and operators although all of them prefer the model of parking rates based on a per-hour basis.
According to Ms. Thumbi, there is no law currently regulating parking fees in private properties such as shopping malls and hospitals as the property owners are deemed to have paid for every service they offer through the annual business licenses and land rates.
A proposal by the Nairobi City County government in mid-2018 to regulate parking operations in hospitals, shopping malls and other private properties, is yet to be implemented.
“Many Nairobi residents are being subjected to parking charges in various premises such as shopping centers, supermarkets and hospitals,” said Charles Kerich, the County Executive Committee member in charge of Finance and Planning,
“I will be proposing a fee for all private parking spaces that charge their customers hourly parking rates,” he said in his 2018/19 fiscal year budget speech. The fee is yet to come into effect.
“On the other hand, the County government will seek to give incentives to private players who wish to develop new parking bays outside their premises in order to increase the total number of parking slots available and generate revenue,” Kerich.
Separately, Kenya’s Senate has previously argued parking fees charged by private hospitals is a burden to patients. Some of the Senators from the 47 counties in Kenya proposed a ban on the parking fees charged by private hospitals and hotels in addition to regulating car parking operations at the country’s biggest airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
“I plan to re-introduce the matter (parking charges) in the House (Senate) and push it until it becomes a Bill if they (hospitals, malls, hotels) do not come up with a self-regulation way that suits the public,” said Ali Abdullahi, a Senator from Wajir County in Northeastern Kenya.
“Kenyans are suffering,” said Senator Abdullahi. “When you go for services in hospitals, schools and malls, the charges are very high and Kenyans have to be helped, and I believe it is our (Senators) duty and responsibility to undertake this,” he said as he sought a statement from the Standing Committee on Roads and Transportation on the high parking fees charges in institutions that offer public services such as hospitals, schools, malls, among others.
His colleague from Kericho County, Aaron Cheruiyot said the parking fees charged by private hospitals was first introduced by Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, but the “explanation they (hospital) gave following the protests from citizens was that, that money would be used to run charitable activities within the institution.”
He, however, said without a structured legal procedure of reporting of non-health services to either national or county government by these private hospitals or an audit of what these institutions do outside their core mandate, it is difficult to tell whether the reason given for charging parking fees “is truth or a lie.”
“Why should this House and Parliament be paying Nairobi Hospital and other hospitals money using our insurance, and they again charge us another fee for going to the hospital itself?” posed Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen.
Some of the questions he asked in the Senate were: “What is the mischief for one to put money in a hospital that is already charging for the services they are going to give? Why are they taxing people to come and actually pay for services? Does it mean that they suspect that there are idlers who go to park their vehicles in the hospital, yet they work elsewhere? Is it not possible to track a person who has come to the hospital from the time he arrived and where he is going?
“Someone who has gone to a hospital for treatment is again forced to go to their car and look for a parking bay. This should not be allowed to happen,” added Senator Okong’o Omogeni from Nyamira County.
With the current lack of efficient mass transit system in Nairobi, many more people will prefer using their private cars for safety and convenience as they travel to the city, including visiting hospitals.
Although none of the private hospitals in Nairobi was keen on being drawn into the hospital parking debate, there is concern about the tendency of car owners parking their vehicles at the parking lots of these institutions as they engage in non-hospital related business. This could have informed the decision to introduce parking fees and privatization of the services as it has been done at Nairobi Hospital and Aga Khan University Hospital.
Finding a suitable answer to the question of whether or not to abolish hospital parking in Kenya and other Africa countries where the services are available, would probably depend on who one speaks to.
But if experience from other countries, especially in Europe, is taken into account, then it does appear free hospital parking may not be an option, partly because of the chain of challenges it unleashes on the general public in the region.
Shem Oirere is Parking Today’s on the ground reporter in Africa. He can be reached at email@example.com.