“Can you buy a house without paying for it?” asks Indian Institute of Technology professor Dinesh Mohan talking about the “subsidy” being offered to private vehicle owners for parking their vehicles in the Capital.

According to a recent international survey carried out by real estate company Colliers International, parking rates in India are among the lowest in the world. The average cost paid by a Delhiite to park his/her vehicle is around US $ 1.32 or Rs.60 per day or US $ 33 a month. The lowest parking cost in the world is paid in Jakarta, Indonesia, at US $ 0.92 per day or US $ 27.56 a month.

At a recent Centre for Science and Environment seminar held here to discuss “parking reforms for a liveable city”, speakers agreed that most cities in the country allow free parking in residential areas and on prime commercial land. Also, the existing rates charged by civic agencies in the city for vehicular parking do not reflect the actual land use cost. The growing consensus on the current situation, points out Anumita Roychowdhury of CSE, is that “parking pricing should be market and space driven. Vehicle users are using valuable urban space to keep their cars parked, paying pittance or nothing at all”.

In the high-end South Extension market, for example, a street vendor ends up paying over Rs.350 per day to different authorities (legally or illegally) to sell his wares, while a car owner who parks his car in the same market and uses up more space is charged between Rs.10 and Rs.20 per entry. Calling it a capitalist norm, Prof. Mohan says: “The rule that you pay for the land you use exists everywhere in the world. If jhuggis are not allowed to come up anywhere on government land, why are car owners allowed to park for free? Parking prices should be based on the land occupied by the vehicles where they are parked.”

The Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police (Traffic), Satyendra Garg, also says that the city faces a scarcity of parking spaces, with people parking on pavements, in carriageways and residential and private colonies. “The pricing policy – wherein a commuter pays Rs.10 to park a car [at most places] – needs to be looked into,” he says.

Another reason why increasing parking prices is important according to experts is that it is likely to discourage private vehicle ownership. “The need of the hour is to dissuade people from owning private vehicles…Parking policy for the city should be managed in such a manner that it reduces parking and gets people to shift to modes of public transport,” says Ms. Roychowdhury.

The availability of public transport is a contentious issue in the city's context, and is not always a deterrent to the use of private vehicles. The busy and commercial Nehru Place area is a case in point. It has excellent public transport connectivity through buses and the Delhi Metro, parking spaces managed by the civic bodies and the Delhi Metro, a multi-level car parking, and yet continues to face a paucity of parking space for private vehicles.

The findings of a recent experimental survey (with a small sample size), conducted in Nehru Place under IIT-Delhi professor Geetam Tiwari, suggested that use of private vehicles is favoured because of low prices and convenient parking locations. Of the 100 or so private vehicle owner respondents, over 50 per cent said they would give up using private transport if parking rates become as high as Rs.200 per day or if the parking space available is at least 200 to 300 metres away from their workplace.

Prof. Mohan says if the poor in the city are not given subsidy for using public transport, car owners were being given an “unfair” advantage by paying highly subsidised rates for parking.

Different civic agencies manning parking lots in the city have different cost structures. While the New Delhi Municipal Council parking lots are divided into different groups based on the demand for parking, charging more in commercial areas and markets, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority parking lots have a uniform parking rate structure. The base charge across all agencies, however, is Rs.10 for cars and Rs.5 or Rs.7 for two-wheelers. Even with graded parking in place (NDMC), the maximum monthly charge paid in Group “A” parking lots of the NDMC is Rs.1,000. Malls and private parking spaces, that charge relatively higher amounts, are also not sufficiently deterrent to the use of private vehicles.

While experts agree that graded parking is a step in the right direction, Prof. Tiwari says detailed studies need to be carried out in different localities in the city to ascertain how parking pricing should be fixed. “But it should be agreed in-principle that there should be no free parking at all,” she says.

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