Policy, pricing and reform — keys to address parking woes in cities
A couple of days ago, the Supreme Court observed in its judgment that ‘the social fabric of neighbourhoods is being torn asunder because of fights over this most petty issue of parking of vehicles’. The court also observed that it needs to pass a detailed order on parking, which may appear like a mundane issue. In truth, a good parking strategy lowers pollution and decreases crime. This results in a better and more dignified life which is entitled to every citizen of India under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The top court issued a series of directions to the authorities concerned of the Delhi Government, but the problem of parking is not restricted to the national Capital alone. It is much more severe in cities like Gurugram. Last year, a woman in Bhawani Enclave allegedly fired at an autorickshaw driver after an argument over a roadside parking space. Luckily, the driver escaped unharmed. But this was not a one-off incident. Arguments over parking are a common sight in many residential and commercial areas of the city.
So, why are our cities unable to address the seemingly simple issue of parking? That’s because our cities have never looked at the issue holistically. The parking problem can be resolved provided cites follow a three-step strategy.
Progressive Parking Policy
Parking is haphazard in our cities and that’s because the agencies don’t know what or how to address the issue. Therefore, the starting point is to have a progressive parking policy, approved by the state. Studies have shown that a typical motor vehicle moves only 5% of the time. This means that the vehicle is parked for almost 23 hours in a day thereby occupying 23 sqmt of real estate at least in two locations in a city. This means that the city is happily allocating at least 46 sqmt of prime real estate for parking vehicles, but finding a minimum of 50 sqmt for a plot or 19 sqmt for flats for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) is always a struggle. Also, the parking problem as a shortage of slots at a particular time and location is an old paradigm. The new paradigm involves sharing of spaces efficiently. Therefore, a progressive parking policy lays a framework for comprehensively addressing the issue.
Right Pricing Strategy
Way back in 2006, the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) suggested graded parking fee. The NUTP argued that this will encourage a move away from the traditional free parking incentive to car users and will help to switch to more sustainable means of transport. However, not much has happened in our cities since then and that’s because our cities have not understood the power of putting a price on parking spaces.
Right pricing does three things for parking. First, it reshapes the usage of parking spaces, which means if the pricing is right, people will park only when they need to. Therefore, the space can be used for multiple vehicles decreasing the overall need for more parking spots. Second, high parking fee also acts as a deterrent to private automobile owners, which increases the use of public transport, assuming it is available. Third, parking fee can be a great source of revenue. Till 2015, a total of 29 lakh cars and 56 lakh two-wheelers were registered in Delhi, assuming 50% were in use and paid, once during the day, a parking fee of ₹20 for cars and ₹10 for two-wheelers, the city would generate an annual revenue of ₹1,500 crore from parking alone. And, this figure does not account for cars that come from other states. This annual revenue can be used for operating 4,000 electric buses in the city.
Commitment to reform
Reforming parking needs a commitment at the highest level. That’s because people with the most expensive cars are neither willing to pay nor willing to the respect the problem of space availability. One way to demonstrate this commitment would be to develop an area-based parking plan.
Gurugram has already seen that ₹150-crore multilevel parking projects, planned for 1,000 cars and 500 motorcycles, barely have 45% usage. Why is this so? Because, it is easier to park freely along the roads than in a parking lot and then walk another 200-300 meters. This is not the story of Gurugram or Delhi alone, but that of all cities across India; it is always easier and cheaper to park on roads than go back and forth from parking lots.
Therefore, what cities need is a total commitment to an area-wise parking plan with strict enforcement on parking along roads.
Parking vehicles is not a right. Therefore, cities should not blindly provide parking space. Yes, it will be difficult, but there is no other option because our cities don’t have enough space for storing every vehicle, everywhere, all the time.
(Amit Bhatt is the director- integrated transport, WRI India)