NO PARKING!

The rapidly growing vehicle population in our cities alongside an inadequate and fragile public transport system in India is giving sleepless nights to urban planners, city administrators and citizens alike. Parking is a related problem which needs urgent, innovative and durable solutions. In addition to building more parking space, the government with other stakeholders must give emphasis to efficient parking management and must utilize a wide range of tools—parking sensors, pricing, regulations, and information technology systems and other innovations being practiced worldwide

Numbers of private vehicles in Indian cities are on the continuous rise. It is not just causing air pollution and congestion on city roads but also throws up a problem of parking of these vehicles when not in use. One can easily found thousands of vehicles parked idly on roads, footpaths or lanes, blocking road space. In metro cities, at night, a majority of vehicles are parked on roadsides because most of them who own vehicles do not have space for parking and in absence of any alternative, they park their vehicles near to their houses on roads or wherever they can find space.

Parking facilities may be available in our cities but could be inconvenient to access from public places or remain poorly managed. This may be the result of inappropriate design or construction, or inadequate management arrangements. In the present scenario, it is important that local bodies build up parking spaces at residential and market places with innovative technological interventions. This will solve the parking problem and also help in generating more revenue for cash-strapped ULBs. When the government is able to build an efficient infrastructure then they can make it mandatory for every car owner to pay a certain fee every month, if they do not have personal parking space.

Multiple Aspects

The recent developments in Delhi with respect to ambient air quality are making headlines in many parts of the world. While details are not yet available, one can presume that a significant part of the problem of air quality is resulting from vehicular emissions. This is a challenge major cities and even smaller towns are facing in many parts of the globe.

The situation in some of our large cities is alarming, not getting any better. According to Motor Transport Statistics of Maharashtra 2014-15, Greater Mumbai, for example, had a population of 25.71 lac vehicles as of 31.3.2015 growing at over 10% compared to the previous year. The neighbouring Thane Region had an even larger population of 28.88 lakh vehicles. In terms of vehicle density Greater Mumbai has an astonishingly high number at 1292 vehicles per Km of road length.

In Greater Mumbai, if you take away about 15 lakh two-wheelers, that’s still over 10 lakh 3 and 4-wheelers which present the larger fraction of the parking problem. Quite obviously in our metros like Mumbai one needs urgent, innovative and lasting solutions to address mobility issues.

While there can be no restriction on car ownership, car use on city roads needs to be dis-incentivized. While the odd-even formula can help, a system like the Certificate of Entitlement as prevailing in Singapore would be more lasting. This system which allots permits through an auction limits the number of cars that can be used in the city. The rest simply remain locked up in garages at home. While such restrictions can ease the parking problem as well, some more innovative solutions need to be found especially in the high density precincts of business districts of our cities.

Policy Measures

Citizens should get used to paying to park their cars. Paying more than they have been. This itself can be a disincentive for using private cars as it is in Tokyo which is among the top 5 most expensive countries in the world to park. This revenue needs to be ring-fenced by the ULB to create more sophisticated parking infrastructure like vertical stacking and robotic parking/retrieval systems.

ULBs need to mandate adequate parking space in building plans of both commercial and residential buildings when these come for sanction. This is to ensure that there is no more on-street parking beyond what already exists.There has to also be strict enforcement later on. Often, in the case of malls and commercial buildings, spaces shown as ‘parking’ in the plan are later used by the developer for storage and other purposes. Such violations need exemplary punishment.

As another measure, while buying a car, a citizen needs to prove that he has parking space for it- in his residential complex and his workplace. Or else he cannot buy a car. Difficult to implement, but worth trying. As reported in the Times of India on December 23, 2016, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu has proposed such a measure.

There is scope for substantial and extensive use of IT when it comes to parking solutions.

Very often drivers spend frustrating time looking for vacant slots to park their cars. Our cities need to display in real time, the number of number of vacant slots atnearby public parking spaces. So motorists can head there with minimum fuss, causing no congestion and avoiding added pollution. In addition, each public parking slot needs to have some premium slots where one can pay more to park. This will generate further revenue for the ULBs.

Another concept we should get used to is differential parking charges based on car attributes. For example, larger cars need to pay more for parking than smaller ones simply because they occupy more space. We already have a differentiated pricing structure for larger cars. Cars of greater than 4 metres length attract a higher excise duty and hence cost more to buy. Such cars can also cost more to park. Makes sense doesn’t it? Similarly cars which pollute more, say for example diesel cars, need to pay more. It is a kind of ‘Sin Tax’. On the other hand an electric car may pay very little to park. Cars which have engines of larger displacement generate more power and consume more fuel and possibly emit more. Therefore a car with a 2.0 litre engine needs to pay higher parking fees than a car with a 1.5 litre engine. Seems quite fair.

But how does one capture all this information at the time of parking and charge accordingly. Quite simple really. The License plate (registration number plate) of every car is unique and during the process of registration, all details, whether petrol engine or diesel or electrics, size of car, engine capacity all are captured in the registration document. These details need to be embedded in the registration number plate. The number plate is never tampered with since it is a major offence. So while parking, the attendant simply scans the number plate and his handheld console will print out the parking ticket. The driver has just to mention the intended period of parking.

Another concept we should get used to is differential parking charges based on car attributes. For example, larger cars need to pay more for parking than smaller ones simply because they occupy more space. We already have a differentiated pricing structure for larger cars. Cars of greater than 4 metres length attract a higher excise duty and hence cost more to buy. Such cars can also cost more to park

It may also be a good idea to charge lower fees from neighborhood residents than from far-away visitors. Why? One because local residents in any case pay taxes to the local authority. Secondly, it could encourage people to go shopping in neighbourhood malls than far away ones-preventing congestionand causing less pollution. Again the owner’s address is recorded while registering the car and this can be embedded in the number plate.

We already have such a system in Mumbai where vehicles entering (and exiting) the city limits pay a toll every time they do so. Vehicles moving around within the city limits would not pay the toll because they are residents and in any case pay local taxes.

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