Stoyanshik (Georgia)

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Location: Georgia
Author: Lela Rekhviashvili
Affiliation: Central European University

Original text: Lela Rekhviashvili, Central European University

Stoyanka is the Russian word for a parking space. In Georgia, the term stoyanshik is used to denote a person that watches over cars parked in public spaces; the suffix –shik signifies a person in Russian. In other words, a stoyanshik is an informal parking attendant/guard. Stoyanshiki may be found in different parts of Georgia, but their activity is the most widespread in the capital city, Tbilisi.

The practice emerged in the late Soviet years, but became much more widespread in the 1990s, when crimes rates rocketed as a result of the collapse of the USSR and resulting loss of state authority. Stoyanshiki’s services – ensuring the security of cars against theft or vandalism – were thus in high demand. Later in the 1990s stoyanshiki became semi-formalised when the Tbilisi city government licensed the guards, distributing special uniforms and using them as agents for collecting parking charges. Given that at that point Georgia was one of the most corrupt countries in the region (Shelley, Scott and Latta 2013)[1], a share of the rents collected by the guards was most probably informally distributed among state officials. By the mid-2000s, however, two crucial factors making stoyanshiki’s services relevant – the rent collection and ensuring cars’ safety – were eliminated. Since 2003, crime rates in Georgia have fallen significantly due to high-profile reforms pursued by the United National Movement headed by President Saakashvili (2003-2012) (Engvall 2012; Slade 2012)[2][3]. Moreover, the Tbilisi city government stopped relying on individual stoyanshiki for revenue collection for parking services in the city from 2007, when it held an open tender for parking management in the city. The winning company, C.T. Park, marked the parking slots and established annual parking fees to be paid by drivers, which meant that stoyanshiki’s role as unofficial collectors of parking fees became redundant.

The author’s fieldwork (conducted in summer 2015) revealed that neither drivers nor the stoyanshiki named the threat of car theft as a reason for car guarding. Nevertheless, stoyanshiki continue to operate to the present day, but their role has adapted to the new circumstances. There are no official or other forms of data concerning the number of stoyanshiki in Tbilisi, although fieldwork informants interviewed by the author estimate that there are at least a few thousand stoyanshiki in the city. It is notable that every important parking spot in the city has an informal car guard safeguarding the place. They are mostly concentrated around parking spaces with high car turnover, such as banks, shopping centres, state institutions, bars and entertainment centres. In central districts of the city, parking slots are extremely scarce and the cars are often parked behind each other, blocking cars in. In such cases, stoyanshiki collect drivers' phone numbers or even store the car keys themselves, so that they can either call the driver to move the car or move it themselves. Sometimes the cars are parked so tightly that the stoyanshiki's presence is also necessary to ensure that a car drives off safely, without damaging the other parked cars.

‘The picture is taken in Tbilisi, near Galaktion Tabidze bridge. The stoyanshik is listening to the radio while having few customers. Photograph by Eka Paverman.’Source: Author.

Nevertheless, at the majority of parking spaces, drivers can easily park and drive off without the help of a stoyanshik. Stoyanshiki often underline that tips are voluntary. They do not try to force drivers to pay tips, and indeed do not have any means to attempt to do so. They do report that, despite the existence of free riders, most drivers do tend to pay tips. As a rule, stoyanshiki tend to stay at parking spots throughout the day (working for more than 10-12 hours) and do not report having any other job. Thus, car-guarding is their main means of generating income, and would appear to generate sufficient income for them to earn a living.

Informal parked car attending as an informal service is reported mostly in developing and 'transitioning' countries. However, as the practice is usually marginal and sometimes of a temporary nature, the literature on informal parking attendants is limited (Blaauw and Bothma 2003)[4]. Most of the existing literature concentrates on Africa, notably on the case of Cape Town, where informal car attending is a widespread and socially and economically significant phenomenon. In Cape Town the car guarding industry started up as an entirely informal activity, and was often equated to begging. Over time it came to receive partial recognition from the state as well as from private businesses (Bernstein 2003)[5]. In the South African case, two reasons are commonly named to explain the proliferation of car guarding: extremely high levels of unemployment, and high crime rates, especially car theft (McEwen and Leiman 2008)[6]. In Georgia, high unemployment rates, reaching up to 30 per cent in urban centres, is certainly a possible explanation for the widespread nature of car guarding practices.

Due to the very nature of the service, car guarding services are susceptible to what in economics is known as the ‘free riding problem’ – the opportunity for people to benefit from a service or resource being paid for by others. Car guarding can be seen as a semi-public good: it is mostly non-excludable and non-rival (McEwen and Leiman, 2008)[7]. This means that if the parking guard is present at the parking site, their very presence will ensure the security for all the cars present (non-rival), and that drivers will benefit from the service whether they pay for it or not (non-excludable). However, car guarding persists, indicating that the practice withstands the free riding problem and generates enough income for the guards to continue the activity. Explanations for drivers’ willingness to pay ‘tips’ include altruistic motivations (ibid), and desire to gain social approval (Saunders and Lynn 2010)[8]. Another possible explanation is that to a certain degree the parking guards’ presence is beneficial for local private businesses and in some cases the local and national authorities, who are therefore willing to support the activity. In Cape Town, for example, private businesses came to endorse the services of the car guards as beneficial for their customers. While guards were rarely hired officially and largely depended on informal tips, the business owners offered selected guards a uniform, nametag and permission to operate on their company’s car park. Moreover, the city municipality started contracting the parking guards to collect compulsory parking payments from drivers (McEwen and Leiman 2008)[9].

Existing studies thus illustrate that despite free riding problems, local governments and businesses in the South African context saw car guarding services as useful and informally co-operated with them. However, in the Georgian case, stoyanshiki have not benefitted from such unofficial ‘sponsorship’ from public or private institutions. Their capacity to collect tips thus depends on the driver’s good will, and stoyanshiki’s own creative tactics to invent new functions for their services.

Drivers in Tbilisi express a range of opinions on stoyanshiki. While some see them as useless ‘parasites’ (in the words of one of one interviewee), others – in particular inexperienced drivers – view stoyanshiki’s services as valuable. Most commonly, however, drivers report that they do not need the services of stoyanshiki, but feel compelled to pay – both out of compassion, and appreciation of stoyanshiki’s efforts to provide some kind of service. Hence, drivers’ decisions to pay tips to stoyanshiki appear to be motivated by altruism or the observance of a social norm. In this sense, stoyanshiki are rewarded for their efforts to provide a service, rather than fulfilling an actual demand for the service.

Acknowledging that their existing services are of limited use for customers, stoyanshiki have recently invented new services. An important one is protecting cars from punitive action by the supervisors of C.T. Park. The C.T. Park supervisors are responsible for issuing fines to drivers parked without possessing the annual parking licence. Stoyanshiki will often ask supervisors to refrain from issuing fines for their regular customers. Curiously, despite there being no benefit to the supervisor from acceding to such a request, they sometimes do refrain from issuing fines as a favour to a stoyanshik. One supervisor reported that he helps stoyanshiki as ‘they are also human’, adding that the favour is not asked too frequently.

It is interesting to note that the government has not attempted to eradicate the phenomenon of stoyanshiki. Georgia’s post-revolutionary government under President Saakashvili was determined to tackle all sorts of informal and illegal practices (Curro 2015; Rekhviashvili 2015; Slade 2012)[10][11][12], but the services of stoyanshiki were never targeted. This might be due to the fact that stoyanshiki are not connected with mafia and organised crime circles. Furthermore, stoyanshiki do not compete with the private parking management system administered by the C.T. Park, but operate in parallel, based on drivers' voluntary tips. The government has found ways to collect parking charges with a private company in charge of parking management, which makes the removal of stoyanshiki unnecessary.


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