It is time Indian city planners and managers began looking at a public policy for parking

On a normal working day, 40 per cent of the road space in any average-sized Indian city is used for parking rather than for movement of traffic. With every middle class family affording a car, the number of four-wheelers being added to the vehicular population is simply shooting through the roof. Going by the trend, no amount of space will be sufficient to accommodate stationary vehicles, thereby squeezing the movement of public transport to narrower lanes.

Can our already over-congested cities afford this luxury of space that parked cars claim for their idle hours? Navigability (or the absence of it) of Indian cities has already pushed them to the bottom of the Mercer’s annual ‘Most liveable cities’ index. Even if the noxious fumes that are turning the cities into gas chambers are ignored, the space that parking consumes cannot be simply overlooked.

No metropolis within the country, perhaps with the exception of Chandigarh, is gifted with enough mobile space. Liberalisation has deluged them with all kinds of vehicles, two, three and four-wheelers. A private vehicle is mobile merely for four to 10 per cent of a 24-hour day.

Crucial questions

What the city and traffic planners forget to ask is:

How is the rest of the day spent by a privately owned vehicle?

Where are they parked?

At what cost?

Who pays for the space they engage in their stationary hours?

How many of the private vehicle owners own the spaces they use to park their cars with gay abandon?

Do we ever realise how our idling cars (or for that matter any automobile) clutter our urban spaces?

Parking is emerging as the major bane of our Indian cities. In the first instance, our cities were never conceived to accommodate so many people they are taking in today.

Even otherwise, parking has not captured the imagination of users, urban planners, car-sellers and travellers.

Cars are, of course, private property, but with a major difference. They require public space to run. A fridge, washing machine or a flower pot are also private possessions that need space and we plan for a station for anything that we bring home.

This is where the question of parking comes in. Shouldn’t the owners of cars be asked to cough up rent for the public space they occupy in their idle hours? Few have ever given a thought to it. Should not there be a public policy for parking just as there is one with regard to its mobile hours?

Says Sathya Sankaran, a member of the civic advocacy group Praja, it is only we in India who subsidise car so heavily, with political parties vying with each other in promising abolition of parking fee prior to civic elections. Sankaran pleads for introduction of paid parking as the first step to ‘congestion charging.’ “Public space should not be free. Car ownership is a new phenomenon. It should not be free. Rather, congestion charging should be the first disincentive against owning cars. Divide city into zones and fix up parking fee according to the congestion in the area.

Car licence could be linked with ownership of parking space. A car occupies 14 ft. by 6 ft. space. Anyone who uses this much of public space must be liable to pay for it, he suggests.

The Japanese lesson

The Japanese were the largest manufacturers of cars till very recently. But surprisingly few of them owned them. Most Japanese cars were meant for export. Why? Because, the licence for the cars carried a heavy price tag.

Unless a licence aspirant could prove that he owned the parking space at home and provided with one at the worksite, they would not be allowed to buy a car. So, Japan moves on public transport, all kinds of them — monorails, metros, megalevs, high-speed rails, et al.

No subsidised parking

It is time Indian city planners and managers began looking for a public policy for parking. Subsidised parking must be eliminated. Parking charges of a particular location should be fixed according to the existing rentals and land value of the area.

The guilt of allowing so many private vehicles on the road can only be washed away by asking car-owners not to insist on cars at their doorsteps. Major shopping areas and heritage sites of cities should be ‘pedestrianised.’

Bringing in parking rents, regulations and restrictions will not be easy, given the mindset that parking comes free.

People have to be convinced that they have been paying for the luxury of using cars in invisible ways.