The Mumbai Project: Parking a problem, 21 times over | india | Hindustan Times
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The Mumbai Project: Parking a problem, 21 times over

The BMC's proposed 21 underground parking lots could lie unused like CR2 at Nariman Point if on-street parking is not banned or made expensive. Yet, they are unlikely to solve Mumbai’s parking woes. Neha Bhayana finds out. Talk to us...Check out the special on The Mumbai Project

india Updated: Dec 14, 2007 21:14 IST
Neha Bhayana

All cities struggle with lack of parking spaces. The problem is free parking. There will always be a shortage of anything that is free, and on-street parking is no exception. I think Mumbai should set the right price for parking on streets. - Dr Donald Shoup, Professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of ‘The High Cost of Free Parking’.

You gently steer your car onto a helix ramp and drive up floor after floor in dizzying circles till you reach a 17,000 square feet expanse with roomy slots for cars, and park. Another coiling ramp brings your car down when you want to go home. The twain never meet. With eight floors of parking space — 1.36 lakh sq ft in all — for 500 cars and 100 two-wheelers, CR2 at Nariman Point is a parking paradise, perfect for south Mumbai’s busy office hub.

Yet, three years after CR2 opened to the public, a majority of the space lies unoccupied, even during office hours. Why? Two simple reasons. Not many people want to drive up and down the not-so-gently curving inclines and slopes. More importantly, when it is still possible to park for Rs 5 or even free on the streets of Nariman Point, why pay Rs 15 per hour to park at CR2? Blame it on our ‘Costanza mentality’. In the popular American sitcom Seinfeld, George Costanza says: “Parking is like sex. Why should I pay for it? If I apply myself a little, I can have it for free!”

Till 10 years ago, the plot on which CR2 stands today was a parking lot with 130 slots. Realising that this was not enough, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, which owned the plot, handed it over to private developers to build a multi-storeyed parking lot-cum-shopping complex. They were hoping to clear the parked cars off the roads in Nariman Point.

But they forgot to make it difficult for people to park on the streets — tariffs were not raised and people were not fined for illegal parking.

Though Peninsula Land Limited, which constructed the parking lot, says 70 per cent of the space is occupied, the truth is there for all to see. The few cars parked there belong to shoppers and moviegoers who flock to Inox multiplex, which is part of the CR2 complex.

We could have learnt something from the British capital. London ensured that its citizens use its multi-storey car parks by charging half (£1 to £2 hourly) of what is charged at on-street pay-and-parks (£4 an hour). The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation did not show similar insight. Nor has it learned from the CR2 mistake. It is now all set to unveil a 30-storey car park at Breach Candy — it will be ready in six months — and is drawing up plans to construct underground parking lots at 21 sites across the city. “The BMC is replicating the CR2 mistake 21 times,” said transport expert Ashok Datar. “Without restrictions on parking on the streets, the underground parking lots are bound to fail.”

And that’s not all. The proposed two-level parking lots will have shopping plazas. The civic body will allow developers to use 30 per cent of the area by leasing out the space to shops. There will be shops at the minus one level and parking at minus two. Only in areas where underground commercial exploitation is not allowed — like under recreation grounds and playgrounds — the BMC will build fully-mechanised car parks with lifts to take cars down and park them in slots.

Experts say the shopping plazas spell disaster. “Shops will draw more cars, and whatever parking space is created will be used by shoppers, not officegoers,” said Bina Balakrishnan, a transport expert with the World Bank.

Additional Municipal Commissioner Manu Kumar Srivastava said the civic body will enforce higher tariffs for street parking to push people to park underground. Currently, you can use a BMC parking space - all are open lots on streets — by paying a mere Rs 5 an hour anywhere in the city.

In the West, parking space is priced as per the cost of the real estate in the area. Thus, while in Manhattan you have to pay approximately $2,22,000 (Rs 87.4 lakh) for a parking space, you will be able to afford a three-bedroom house with a pool in Houston, at the same price.

Experts say Mumbai’s parking tariff is among the lowest in the world. And we have not increased the charges in over 20 years. “We have incredibly low parking charges. It’s either Rs 5 or nothing,” said Balakrishnan. “It does not make sense to pay the same price for parking at Nariman Point, Sion and Dharavi.”

Balakrishnan, who is on the World Bank’s Mumbai Transformation Support Unit — advising the state government on the city’s transformation — said it had recommended that the parking rates be revised based on real estate value and demand six months ago. “After all, parking is putting private property on public property,” she said. So, if there’s high demand for parking at Colaba, it should cost more than parking at a residential area in Goregaon, which has less demand.

Another problem Mumbai needs to fix is the parking tariff structure. Here, the longer you park your car in a lot, the less you have to pay. Parking charges drop after the first three hours to Rs 3 per hour. This is the opposite of what happens in cities abroad. In the few streets where you can park in Manhattan, the rates go up every two hours. It’s $2 an hour for the first two hours, the next two cost $3 an hour, it shoots up to $4 an hour for the next two. “It discourages occupation of road space for extended periods,” explained Datar.

There’s another school of thought that suggests that the government should not invest too much in new parking lots. “If you build, they will come,” said Pratik Mhatre, who’s doing his doctorate in urban and regional science programme at the Texas A&M University. “Creating more space to park could send out wrong signals to the public,” he argued.

According to Mhatre, building parking lots is like building flyovers. “By investing in flyovers the government gives a policy signal that it prefers cars to buses or trains and the public will act accordingly,” said the student, who also writes a blog on urban planning.

The long-term solution is for the government to invest in mass transport systems like the metro and dedicated bus lanes. Simultaneously, it should implement disincentives for ownership and use of private cars. As in the case of London, which makes drivers pay up a congestion charge.

The Maharashtra government, however, is a long way from discouraging private transport. State transport secretary Ramnath Jha admitted this is because “there is no credible alternative” public transport available yet. “At this point, it would make life difficult for people,” he said. “People already face quite a lot of trouble traveling, and we cannot inconvenience them more.”

Neera Punj, convenor of Citispace, a non-government organisation, does not agree with Jha. “Singapore enforced strict parking and traffic regulations even as they were upgrading their public transport 15-20 years ago. People felt handicapped and grumbled, but eventually got used to it,” said the activist who has lived in Singapore for an extended period of time.

If Mumbai were to park all its vehicles in one parking lot, it would occupy 22 sq km, or a third of the island city. New parking spaces will open up 1 lakh slots for cars — hopelessly inadequate, as we’re adding 500 vehicles daily.

Fundamental ‘right to park’?

The deal: Powerful lobbies of rich car-owners have pulled off a coup — a constitutional amendment making the ‘right to park’ a fundamental right.
The dilemma: Space has to be provided for over 15 lakh cars.
In babuland: Heated exchange at a high-level meeting of ministers and civic officials, who are asked to step up work on underground parking lots.

The deal: Tata’s Rs. 1 lakh ‘people’s cars’ are a hit. Even the minister’s peon drives to work and asserts his ‘right to park’ at Mantralaya.
The dilemma: There are over 20 lakh cars. Underground parking space for 1 lakh only.
In babuland: More heated exchange at a high-level meeting. A transport expert speaks up, feebly: “Let’s put a cap on vehicles per family... hike parking tariffs... introduce congestion charge...” “Impossible,” screams a minister who owns seven cars. He can’t annoy voters till public transport is a good alternative in reality.

The decision: All maidans to be turned into car parks.
The deal: Cars are parked underground, over ground, in multi-storeys, on building terraces. Civic officials pass days at a court hearing cases filed due to breach of the right of park.
The dilemma: The city has a record 60,000 lakh cars. Roads are blocked with parked cars.
In babuland: Chappals and mikes fly at an assembly session. Later, a committee is set up to inquire how the ‘right to park’ became a fundamental right, another to see if floating car parks can be built off Nariman Point, Worli and Carter Road.

Thankfully, this is hypothetical. But these scenarios may not be far from reality in some years, if those in power don’t address our parking problem.

Let’s crunch some numbers. We have around 7.5 lakh registered vehicles plus another 2.5 lakh motor cars registered outside the city. If parking space of 20 square metres is given to each, we need roughly 20 square km of land. Add another 2 square km for the over 8 lakh two-wheelers at 2.6 square metre of space each. That makes it 22 square km in all.

This means a third of the island city (65 sq km), up to Mahim, would have to be used as a parking lot. With 500 new vehicles on our streets daily, we’d run out of this space too.

Is this enough?

Problem 1: On-street parking
Parking eats up precious road space and should be banned on arterial roads, junctions and near transport hubs.

Problem 2: Low parking charges
In New York, parking spaces are as much a part of the real estate boom as apartments. Mumbai’s civic parking tariff of Rs 5 per hour or nothing must be revised.

Problem 3: No plans to restrict parking
Major global cities use parking as a tool to restrict use of cars. There should be a cap on number of cars per family, congestion charge and other disincentives.

Park street

If we park all the cars along Mumbai’s roads:

* Mumbai officially has 2,045 km of road length.
* Cars have an average length of 5 metres.
* With over 7 lakh cars, we will need 3,500 km of roads.
* This does not take into account the taxis, auto-rickshaws and other vehicles parked regularly along city streets.

There is no such thing as ‘adequate parking’

The BMC currently has 89 parking lots with approximately 6,000 parking slots, or 9,000 if the cars are squeezed in. When the 21 underground parking lots open, the city will have over one lakh more parking spaces.
So will this solve Mumbai’s parking problem? Very unlikely.

The city has over 15.6 lakh registered vehicles and a huge number of floating vehicles. The Mumbai Environmental Social Network (MESN) in its survey found that one in every three vehicles plying on the streets is registered outside the city.

The number of vehicles in the city is currently rising at 9 per cent every year, even as the human population grows at two per cent annually. Not surprisingly, no city in the world has been able to provide “adequate” parking for its vehicles.

Across the world, governments have realised that parking is best managed by ensuring that parking space is restricted, not increased, and strictly regulated. Major cities are experimenting with different strategies to manage parking. Bangkok, for instance, made it mandatory for all new buildings to reserve one-third of the floors for parking, when the vehicle population hit the one million mark in 1990. So if it’s 12-storey building, the first four floors are exclusively for car parking. Bangkok has about 55 lakh registered cars (four times more than Mumbai), but it does not need to permit its citizens to park on roads.
The city of Portland has specified 0.7 to 1 parking space per 1,000 sq feet built-up area, as against the 4 in other US cities. Limited parking space has ensured that fewer vehicles are used.

Limiting total available parking space, high parking tariffs, offering preferential parking for desired travel modes like car pool, measures like high registration fees for cars and a cap on the number of cars per family are some popular strategies used by global cities.

It is what Balakrishnan calls demand management. “We need to use parking as a tool to restrict the use of private vehicles, and promote public transport,” she said. “The demand for use of road space has to also be controlled.”

In India, the reverse is happening. Additional parking space is being planned and parking remains unregulated. At any given point in time, more than two lakh cars are parked on Mumbai’s roads. And 70 per cent of these are parked in places where parking is prohibited, according to the MESN study.

What about security in the underground car parks?

A big concern regarding the underground parking lots is security. Mumbai already has three underground parking lots — under the Air India building, at Taj and the Hilton (the former Oberoi hotel). But all three were closed for lack of adequate security after the 1993 blasts at Air India building's basement parking.

How does the BMC plan to ensure safety at the 21 underground parking plazas?
The answer, believe it or not, is more shops. "If there are shops, there will be activity underground till late. This way people will feel safe," said Additional Municipal Commissioner Manu Srivastava. Developers will have to provide adequate security measures as per "European standards", he added. The BMC has not yet drawn up security guidelines for the parking plazas.

Charge global rates, Mumbai

The most realistic way for our city to address its parking problems — and earn lots of money — is to charge global rates: Mumbai: Rs 5 per hour for the first 3 hours, Rs 3 an hour after that at BMC-authorised parking lots. Manhattan: For on-street parking — $2 an hour for the first two hours, $3 an hour for the next two hours and $4 an hour for the next two. Private parking lots — Between $6 and $30 an hour.

The buck stops here

Manu Kumar Srivastava, Additional Municipal Commissioner

If shoppers’ cars fill up the parking spaces at the underground parking lots-cum-shopping plazas, won’t it defeat the purpose?
These are shops, not cinemas. Everybody will not decide to drive in to shop at the same time. People who park there may decide to pick up stuff because they are there. But that is incidental shopping, like in our subways. It will not cause traffic.

Why not leave shopping out of parking lots?
Instead, the space can be used to accommodate more cars. The BMC’s aim is not commercial exploitation. But wherever the rules allow it, we will. It will help us save money, which we can use for other projects.

21 underground parking lots. Will these be enough?
Development is all about changing scenarios and changing responses. We will construct these 21 parking lots now. Later, we will have to cater to the entire city and create more parking infrastructure as the demand increases.

Is more parking lots the answer to Mumbai’s parking issues?
We can’t wish away cars. But we will have to discourage on-street parking by levying heavy fees and by encouraging the use of public transport. On its part, the BMC is creating infrastructure for parking. The rest are policy issues. The state government has to enact laws to discourage the use of private cars.

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