Smarter parking for better cities
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One blind spot plaguing our cities today is the problem of car-parking. There is not a single city that has tackled this issue wisely. As a result, one sees cars parked chaotically along narrow roads and busy streets and on the slender approach roads to government offices. This causes harrowing obstacles in transit, precious loss of transaction time and kills aesthetics and visual appeal. In the case of markets, it discourages consumer spending and destroys the user comfort so important for customer delight. On an average, about 33% of cars on street roads at any given time are parked wrongly. With increased urbanization and rapid explosion in car density, resolution of this problem is critical.
Globally, cities have tackled car-parking problems by designating and designing adequate numbers of suitable car parks at appropriate places. In India, our city planning has never factored in the need for parking, perhaps because it has been viewed as a mundane concern. The fact is, however, that parking involves managing several complex parameters: land procurement/delineation, master planning, construction design and choice of materials, physical construction management, lighting, safety and security solutions, efficient payment solutions and last but not least, facility management. They are, therefore, as important for a city as ports are for shipping and airports for aviation.
Parking issues need to be tackled at many different levels. First, for residential off-street parking, no car should be registered until its owner can demonstrate proof of suitable parking slot availability within his premises. If the owner does not have space within his premises, he should have to produce from the resident welfare association (RWA) suitable proof that they can provide a parking place in their common areas. For this to happen, parking space permits will have to be made tradeable.
Further, since residential colonies have no space for delineated common parking areas, RWAs should be allowed to convert a few common spaces reserved for parks for the purpose of collective parking. Such plans should, however, be subject to the approval of the majority of residents through an e-vote. Trees to be cut should be mandated to be fully replaced, if not transplanted. Also, special fiscal incentives should be given by the municipal bodies to RWAs to build underground parking lots and RWAs should be enabled to charge for their construction and operations and management (O&M) on commercial terms from the residents who subscribe to these facilities.
Building by-laws should ensure that only those plans that have provision for suitable parking slots are passed. For non-residential off-street parking, equivalent provisions will have to be made in the area-zoning laws and have to be inscribed suitably in master plans. Most European and US cities mandated such provisions in their by-laws as early as the 1950s, when the car load was not a fraction of what it is in India today.
Municipal corporations should incentivize private developers and owners to acquire space for building underground and over-ground car parks. Once multi-level car parks are developed, their O&M can be given out to private parties. Municipal corporations should even consider floating municipal bonds to raise funds to acquire land which can be used for creating car parks.
The biggest issue in the Indian context is on-street parking. Today, parking is either free, or in the control of licensed unprofessional toll-collectors who have flat rates, because there is no clear policy for regulating and charging for the use of street parking space. Low parking fees also have adverse urban effects: extravagant use of energy, spread and sprawl of cities, violation of tenets of transit-oriented development and degradation of the environment.
At a micro-level, parking metres should be installed along street roads at all designated car-parking areas. These should be set to charge demand-based flexible rates on an hourly basis. So, in peak hours, the rates should be substantially higher than in lean hours. Stiff penal provisions have to be in force to discourage illegal on-street parking. Further, on-street parking should be more expensive than off-street parking. This is necessary to deter and discourage on-street parking and also to incentivize off-street parking and to promote the viability of privately-managed parking.
An effort to develop more car-free areas is a welcome step. But that necessitates more off-street parking. If Connaught Place were to become car-free, where will cars be parked? There will have to be enough designated parking nearby, say on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Ashoka Road or Janpath. Otherwise, there will be indiscriminate parking along these roads, making life miserable for those who live there or habitually use these areas.
To make car parks more efficient and effective, we need to mandate electronic radio-frequency identification (RFID)-based tolling and boom-lifting systems and integrate car-parking with highway-tolling so that the same tag works for both—and ideally, across the country.
In the future, hopefully, we will see more public transport, ride-sharing and services like Uber and Ola. Fewer cars on the road will help reduce emission of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, and improve cities. But for the next 15 years at least, in the interests of citizen comfort, car-parking will have to be dealt with on a war footing. And for businesses, this is at least a $10 billion opportunity.
Raghav Chandra is a civil servant and former chairman of the National Highways Authority of India. Views expressed are personal
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