“I would not have looked in Sarojini Nagar’s direction had I known about this chaos,” said 21-year-old student Paavani Sachdeva, who had brought her grandmother to the market on Wednesday for a “ten-minute job” that turned into a nightmare when she tried to park her car.

Paavani was stuck for 45 minutes behind a line of vehicles trying to enter “South Square”, DLF’s automated multi-level parking facility in Sarojini Nagar, where an efficiency test was being carried out by the New Delhi Municipal Council to determine whether the facility can accommodate as many cars as it claims and if the vehicles can be retrieved under three minutes.

Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) directed the civic agency to conduct a test jointly with the private concessionaire (DLF) and the traders’ association to find out if the facility can accommodate more than 800 cars a day, roughly 160 cars per hour.

The Sarojini Nagar Market Association had repeatedly complained about the long waiting periods triggered by the poor management of the car park. The automated parking lot can accommodate 824 cars but traders in the area say not more than 450 cars have been parked in a day.

The disagreement between the private concessionaire and the traders’ association, however, was over the definition of “retrieval time”. DLF’s promise of “a three-minute” retrieval time is very specific -- the time taken between the token number flashing on the screen and the vehicle retrieved from its slot. “The average retrieval time is less than three minutes which we have achieved,” said DLF Mall Management Vice-President Benu Sehgal. “During the efficiency test, 178 cars were serviced with 104 parked and 76 retrieved,” she added. Figures released by the private concessionaire show an average time of two minutes and 40 seconds per car for retrieving it.

However, traders point to the opportunity cost to the customers from the time taken to wait in queue for parking the vehicle, the security check at the entrance and upon returning to the facility, the time taken to get a token, make the payment and finally wait for the token number to appear on the screen.

“Our concern is about the long queues that are formed outside the facility and the long waiting period for customers,” said Sarojini Nagar Market Association president Pramod Sharma. “Even if the retrieval time is under three minutes, if there are a line of customers waiting for their cars, it will prolong the actual waiting time.”

He also suggested that the number of lifts at the facility could be increased or the interval in which the lifts are operated can be quicker.

“The retrieval time is as per our agreement,” said NDMC spokesperson Amit Prasad. “Barring a few cases, the retrieval time has been achieved. The queues may have been longer due to the large number of vehicles at the facility for the efficiency test but this waiting time is not included in the retrieval time.”

The majority of the vehicles for the efficiency test were provided by the traders’ association, however, several commuters such as Archana Jain were inconvenienced in the process and were vociferous about the situation. “It took me 15 to 20 minutes to park my car and it took over 30 minutes to retrieve it,” she said. “I want to complain about this. My young daughter is standing outside in the heat waiting for me.”

To stop her from raising her voice, a parking staff took her to the front of the queue and sped up the process.

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