The alarming parking problem in India, especially in the metropolitan cities, is taking a heavy toll on life in the cities. The number of vehicles on the roads is ever increasing, especially as automobile industry is the only sector the Government traditionally knows that can easily raise the so-called growth rate in the economy and therefore the people’s money is pumped into it – for an example, the banks are incentivised to provide car loans liberally at 9 per cent while educational loans for the poor and deserving are available with far too many restrictions at 15 per cent, made too scarce!
So, the point is that the parking problem cannot be seen and dealt with in isolation. Besides, we can see the pattern changing from city to city, making a uniform solution elusive. Delhi for example witnesses the phenomenon where we see the higher the price tag, the bigger the demand, at least in the luxury segment.
Why higher parking fees will not work
Even as the problem is spiralling, the space available for parking remains limited. On the surface, it is argued, one way to control the menace is to discourage people from using their own vehicles and restrict the number of vehicles on the roads by raising the parking fee too high and making it mandatory, at the same time popularising public transport.
Do you think that a new parking policy and mandatory parking fee can address the problem of parking, congestion and mobility crisis in Indian cities?
No. Because the parking fee like petrol is not price elastic. Although, convenient public transport may have some effect.
Or are there other ways of looking at the problem?
Give first right to public (mass) transport
It must be appraised if the cities are capable of accommodating the growing number of vehicles. Most of the parking places in residential areas (especially in Delhi) are just off road leading to a limited space for other vehicles. On-road parking at night even takes over the walkways.
Parking charges are said to be very low. The land that could have been used for recreational purposes is blocked for parking at a minimal amount which is not sufficient even for its maintenance.
At the national level, the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) takes care of parking policies and parking fee. As per NUTP parking places in cities have occupied a very precious land. Therefore high parking fee is sought to be levied which will be commensurate with the value of occupied land. One other opinion is public transport and non-motorised modes of transport must be given preference over private vehicles in parking areas.
In this connection, it is also pointed out that giving first right to public transport on the roads, giving them the right of way, over the private vehicles, will go a long way in bestowing the pride of place to the mass transport, reasonably impacting the need for more frequent use of other vehicles.
What is the benchmark to fix a fee?
China formulated a policy and raised the parking fee during peak hours. This reportedly reduced parking demand by 30 percent. Also in other studies across the world it has been found that generally an automobile commuting get reduced by 10-30 percent in case parking price is high or calculated appropriately.
Parking fee in areas that are well connected through public transport should be even higher to encourage the use of public transport. Parking rates should change with peak hours, weekdays, duration of parking, demand and location of commercial area.
Like in Germany, collected parking money must be used for the development of the area, not just for parking. This should be used for the maintenance and beautification purposes and there should be complete transparency in the entire process. Most of the time the public rightly complaints about fund misuse when it does not see any development and reason for paying such a high fee.
What is the benchmark to fix a fee? Who is authorised to fix it? How? Besides, can ever pricing be used as a tool of disincentive? These are India’s perennial questions without solutions!
Apart from mandatory parking fee, public understanding is also required. We must understand that amount collected from mandatory parking will benefit us, not the middlemen camouflaged as authorities.
It is, howsoever, true that safe, well-connected and conveniently available public transport can to an extent reduce the number of the private vehicles on the roads and in the parking.