Why the Devil Are Israel's Parking Inspectors So Happy?

Tension, threats, assault ... job satisfaction! On the road with Israel’s meter men.

Ofer Vaknin

They prowl the city streets, projecting an authority rather akin to an old-time Western sheriff's. Their uniforms resemble that of cops but they don't get the same respect. They sweat in the sun and get wet in the rain, and are poorly paid for their efforts.

Parking inspectors are considered municipal employees yet their status is inferior to that of other city workers. In spite of it all, however, the parking inspectors that TheMarker encountered wouldn’t want to change jobs.

Moshe Halagweh, 45, works as a parking inspector on Bialik Street, a main artery through Ramat Gan, a city next to Tel Aviv. He tries to shrug off the painful gibes that drivers direct his way when he tickets them for double parking, blocking a driveway, and so on.

Rare are the eight-hour shifts when some kind of untoward event doesn’t take place.

“Most of the drivers I ticket or I ask to move their cars react with restraint,” says Halagweh, who has been in his job for six years. “But there’s a constant tension in the air. It’s enough for three or four to react violently – verbally or physically – to turn the work routine into a battle zone.”

A year ago, he told a motorcyclist that parking was not allowed in a particular spot. The cyclist started his engine and tried to run Halagweh over. “I jumped sideways, but he still hit me hard with the handlebar." He had to wear a bandage on his arm for three weeks and went on extended sick leave.

His is a Sisyphean task, as Halagweh describes it. It’s a thankless profession, even he admits.

So why's he doing this job? “My wife doesn’t have steady work and we need a stable income,” he replies. “Before this I worked in sales, mostly electronics. The last place where I worked was the Sakal [duty-free] store at Ben-Gurion airport. It’s true that sales paid a lot more than my salary as a parking inspector, but the job was insecure financially and in terms of job security. I never knew what my pay would be for a given month, and I always faced the threat of layoffs if the business didn’t continue to make money. In my current position I have a sense of stability, even if the salary is under 5,000 shekels ($1,460) a month,” he says.

“I don’t have to feel that I am in danger of being laid off every day,” he adds, and there is the prospect of a small pay raise. Halagweh says there are shop owners in the area whom he has gotten to know who offer him drinks and chocolate, but he refuses to take any kind of gift, even gum or water. If he isn’t meticulous about his integrity, he says, “there would be chaos on the street.”

And would he consider leaving the job? “No. I support my four children and also need to pay the mortgage we took out,” he states, “and who knows? Maybe in the future, I’ll be able to transfer to one of the offices at city hall.”

The open road

Orian Buzaglo, 27, initially thought she'd do a three-month stint as a parking inspector in Ramat Gan until she found something else, but she liked the job and has stayed for three years. The week we met, she was working Herzl Street, the city’s busiest. Despite the job’s low pay, she seems to derive satisfaction from it.

“I’m a hyperenergetic type who loves contact with people and moving around. I don’t want to find myself shut between four walls in some back office facing a computer,” she explains. “I would prefer to be satisfied with what I do, and work where I express my capabilities well. That comes before economic considerations.”

Previously, she says she worked as an administrative employee at a major law firm. “I went crazy there. The reams of paper with long court decisions and all the numbered filing notebooks I had to deal with got me down. Before that, I worked as a salesperson at a clothing store and felt trapped there, too,” she admits. “It’s true that the salary at the two other places was all right, but I have fun releasing my energy as an inspector on a teeming street where I can try to put things in order. My spouse isn’t happy about my salary and is urging me to leave, but I don’t intend to. Even if the law office offered me an additional 2,000 shekels, I wouldn’t go back there.”

Buzaglo isn’t oblivious to the problems her current job presents, most obviously hostile comments from parking violators she carches. But she says male parking inspectors suffer more abuse than female ones. However, she has been physically attacked on more than one occasion, she says, and in one case she filed a criminal complaint and her assailant was convicted.

She also acknowledges the physical pain from standing on her feet nearly eight hours a day. At the end of a shift, she says, she feels it particularly in her knees. “And when I come home, I’m totally exhausted.”

Doesn't sound like heaven. Yet the director of the parking inspection bureau at the Ramat Gan municipality, Rami Nahum, says turnover among parking inspectors is not particularly high. “The major attrition occurs in the initial months on the job, when they discover that the job really isn’t for them. Those who remain fall in love with the work and feel like emissaries from the community.”

Labor lawyer Eyal Sternberg, whose practice includes representation of clients who have suffered harassment on the job, says parking inspectors are entitled to ongoing training to deal with any hostility they encounter. Nahum, who heads the Ramat Gan department, says the inspectors are counseled on a regular basis not to overreact.

Sternberg says he provides counsel to inspectors from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority who serve a similar function. “I can’t agree with the attitude that the inspector needs to restrain himself when someone on the street swears at him,” says Sternberg. “He needs to respond decisively, albeit in a civilized manner. And if the incident continues, he should call the police. Otherwise the problem will repeat itself and even get worse.”

And Sternberg says there should be a specific law for the protection of parking inspectors. “It’s true that the law bars insulting a public servant, but the law is geared primarily toward policemen. If the inspectors don’t receive appropriate protection, they would have the right to sue their employer for damage caused to them – if, for example, a driver who gets a ticket knocks them to the ground. The law needs to be adapted to the inspectors, since their work involves constant risk.”

Ofer Vaknin
Ofer Vaknin