For people like Gaurav Kumar, parked vehicles are a nightmare. He lives right next to a multi-specialty hospital in Kilpauk. Getting in and out of his home is an ordeal. The side street on which he lives is taken over by an array of cars and two-wheelers on most days.

“The concept of public space has become a joke in the city. Every inch is taken over. My children find it difficult to even step out and go to school,” Mr.Kumar says.

A two-storeyed underground parking lot was inaugurated on Sunday at the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) to provide relief to motorists using the terminus, but a citywide solution to the problem of unregulated parking seems distant.

Chennai still lacks a parking policy and the absence of demarcated parking zones has resulted in motorists taking over even pedestrian space, making the city unwalkable. A study ‘Parking requirements of Chennai Metropolitan Area' undertaken by Wilbur Smith Associates in 2003 says that haphazard on-street parking leads to an average loss in road capacity of over 40 per cent.

The government's answer is to build multi-level parking facilities. Chennai Corporation Commissioner D. Kathikeyan said: “Our approach is to build as many multi-level car parks as possible.” After years of delay, the Corporation has commenced work on two such facilities. But is the government adopting the right strategy?

Parking is a subset of the congestion problem that the city is going through. The number of private vehicles in the city per 100 residents increased eight-fold between 1981 and 2010.

G. Malarvizhi, professor at the Transportation Engineering Division, Anna University, who has done a study on parking problems in the city's central business districts, says that the demand for parking is infinite and the city cannot keep building multi-storey facilities. “Parking has to be priced at a premium. The city's Development Control Regulations must reflect time-specific and locality-specific changes.” For example, according to current regulations, a hospital based in T. Nagar is mandated to have the same amount of setbacks and parking space as one in Washermenpet.

Ms. Malarvizhi says that most of the measures being taken to address the issue are focussed on demand management, instead of policy intervention. “Parking must be used as a tool to control the movement of private vehicles. Instead, we are allowing demand to go up by providing free parking on most city roads and then we change standards when it becomes difficult to enforce,” she adds.

Her projections indicate that parking demand in T. Nagar will increase five-fold by 2016 if restrictions on entry of vehicles are not imposed. Globally, it has been proved that parking fees can indirectly incentivise public transport. Shenzhen in China recently tripled parking charges and parking demand immediately dropped by 30 per cent.

A recent Asian Cities Parking Study done by the Asian Development Bank across 14 cities finds that most of the cities are adopting an auto-centric parking strategy that has now been discarded by Western cities. It shows that a surprising proportion of parking is free for motorists, even in dense cities with high property prices.

Bhure Lal, Chairman of the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), a committee set up by the Supreme Court to monitor public policy in the National Capital Region, says that 9-10 per cent of Delhi's area is required to provide adequate parking for vehicles.

“The existing policy perpetrates hidden subsidy to rich car owners as the cost of using up scarce and valuable urban space for parking are not recovered through proper pricing and taxes,” he adds.

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