Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stellenbosch Parking Marshals

Excerpt from project July-November 2008:

The system has changed significantly since I did this project. The day marshals no longer wear red bibs, but these silly uniforms, with yellow arms that look way too hot to wear in the summer sun. The card system has also changed back to a cash system (maybe you can still use cards? I don't know).

'By 11:00 am the car park is almost completely full. The weather has steadily worsened by this time and everyone is huddled under their umbrellas or the trees to escape the rain. The weather makes both drivers and marshals more temperamental than usual, neither seem to relish the other’s presence. Drivers also do not have much time to pay tips or even give money for parking in the rain. They run in and out, leaving as soon as they can.

Some marshals fail to show up when the weather is bad. This means there is more to cover by less people, exacerbating the situation. It suffices to say that rainy days are not good days for the car marshals. The elements present a constant challenge and they make considerably less money.'

The majority of the Red-Bibs have a very strong work ethic. It is felt that what you put in, you will ultimately get out. If someone has had a bad day and income was low, it is believed that it is because they did not contribute as much as they could have. Often, drivers do not pay for their parking immediately; they tell the marshal that they will pay on return. Many return without ever paying the marshal. Some of the regular marshals do not see this as a problem. They feel that in time the money they have lost will come back to them, for instance, someone would come back the next day and give R10 where they originally only owed about R3. In one instance, a driver came back after three months and paid the marshal R100. There are however those who never pay up. As a result, the agency blames the marshals for stealing. Marshals are often blamed for things they are not directly responsible for. For example, marshals get blamed by drivers for things like the rise in parking tariffs, or differing tariffs for parking across town. They admit that this often gets them down and they feel frustrated by the treatment they receive, but they believe that a positive spirit will persevere and they try not to let these things get them down. There is also a general understanding that drivers are not always aware of the marshal's circumstances and that they are only people who go about their way.

Customer relations are generally important to the marshal. While many drivers are rude and tend to act indifferently, marshals do their best to communicate in a friendly manner. Drivers often park and walk away without putting money on the meter, when this happens; marshals attempt to get the attention of the driver. Sometimes the drivers flatly ignore these calls and as a result marshals often have to raise their voice. This can be construed by the driver as an act of aggression and as a result conflict arises between the two.

There are marshals who occupy a fixed a space if they have been known to make good money in that particular spot. Some marshals are able to make a lot of money in the most unlikely of places. These marshals value their customer relations more so than others. This further exemplifies how it is not a marshals position that determines their income, but their overall attitude toward the work and the people they deal with. For these marshals drivers are often seen as more than ‘customers’ or ‘clients’. It is not uncommon for drivers to have preferred parking spaces because of their relationship with the car marshal. Friendships are often formed under these circumstances, as with my informant John Henry who I often found smoking a cigarette and chatting with one of his regular ‘customers’. Regular customers usually give better tips than other customers. Building up a good customer relation is part of the red-bib work ethic and ultimately contributes to better satisfaction for the work they do. These relations play an important part in balancing out the negative attitudes of other drivers.

'By the end of the day, Yellow-bibs can already be seen standing on the periphery waiting to take over. There is shouting across the lot between Red and Yellow bibs. I am unable to make out what they are saying. I ask one of my informants what the commotion is about and he tells me that the one guy used to be a red-bib but has since left the employment of the agency. He goes on to relate how he never bothered showing up for work and how he is better of working as a yellow-bib because he never fit into the red-bib system.'

Yellow bibs do not work for an agency. I tried to find out more about how one becomes a yellow bib but all my sources were either contradictory or just plain vague. Some say they receive their bibs directly from a municipality office but other sources say that there is a man, known as ‘welle welle’. This man is said to have at one stage worked on the municipal council and as a result managed to procure the rights to distributing yellow bibs. But according to Philip Kleinhans who works at Stellenbosch’s toy museum, a man who has been part of the Stellenbosch marshalling system since its inception, no-one owns or controls the yellow-bibbed system anymore. It is basically a free for all; if one is able to get hold of a yellow bib and find a spot, then you are good to go.

Yellow-bibs usually take over from 17:00 when parking becomes free. They are mostly found at night in parking areas close to restaurants. They have a reputation for drinking on the job and harassing drivers. I spoke to a restaurant owner and he said his biggest problem is the yellow bibbed car marshals because they scare off his customers and he suspects that many of them are involved in organised crime. This of course does not reflect all yellow-bibs but it is a good example of the shady reputation 'they' have in Stellenbosch.

1 comment:

  1. I mostly give them the "stare-ahead".

    Another option is to covertly enter your car and close the door very very slowly. By the time they hear your car start it's too late.