Alongside the pizza makers and syrupy folk singers, unlicensed parking attendants well-known in Italian as parcheggiatori abusivi are traditional Naples characters central to the city's folklore.
And now their old albeit illegal pavement-pounding profession is going high-tech: a Google Maps page is providing all the relevant information about Naples' 150 or so unlicensed parking areas, from availability to expected fees.
Depending on your point of view, or how much of a rush you are in, you can view parcheggiatori abusivi as criminals or as a valuable help in the search for the elusive parking spaces in Naples' super congested streets. In some crime-infested areas, paying these unlicensed key-keepers guarantees that your car will not be vandalized or stolen.
If nothing else, the unlicensed parking attendants are adaptable. Recently, a huge and affordable (and legal) public lot opened in Naples. At first, the parcheggiatori abusivi bought the parking tickets and sold them to the drivers. The police responded by forcing drivers to provide their car registration number at the entrance.
A travel guide to illicit spots
The unlicensed parking attendants are still here, though. For many, this is a family business. They control streets inherited by their fathers or their grandfathers. They consider themselves professionals and would prefer to be called "parking overseers."
For a while, if a customer wanted to park in a particularly crowded area for example, close to a restaurant on the seafront he could call the parcheggiatori abusivi and book in advance. Now, the costumer can find them online. On Google Maps there is a constantly updated map of Naples with more than 150 illegal car lots.
It is a sort of Travel Guide to unlicensed parking. In via Marina, near Federico II University, there are 300 lots controlled by five parcheggiatori abusivi. The minimum fee is one euro, and the "insistence" in asking for the payoff is "medium ." On the seafront, there are around one thousand spots, and ten unlicensed attendants. The fee is two euros. In Piazzetta Scacchi, in the heart of Naples, a weekly or monthly subscription is available, especially for residents.
The creator of the Google Maps page says that though there is a gag element to his creation, it's also aimed at helping the police.
The local authorities, though, say tracking the abuses is not the hard part. "We don't need tips. We know this issue very well, and we have been combating it for years," says the Municipal Police Chief, Colonel Luigi Sementa. "The main problem is that we can arrest an unlicensed parking attendant only if a driver is assaulted, or denounces them for extortion. Without a complaint, we can only fine them."
In 2009, the parcheggiatori abusivi even rallied in front of Naples Cathedral asking not to be persecuted anymore, insisting that they provide the city with a service. And now that service is new and improved thanks to Google Maps.
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