Parking spaces have become every car owners’ nightmare today

“How do you manage without a car?” When I was in class III, I remember my friend asking me this out of what seemed like genuine curiosity. The question came as a surprise as far fewer people owned cars about two decades ago. Some families we knew drove around in Ambassadors or Fiats and others — buying their first-ever car — often opted for the compact Maruti 800. The really posh ones had the swanky, ship-like Contessa Classic. But none of them would have been even remotely concerned about what has become every car owner’s nightmare today — parking space.

Clearly, more people are buying cars now. According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, the sale of domestic passenger cars in the country went up to 1,43,496 units in July 2012, compared to 1,34,473 units in July 2011. Many of these must be making their way into Chennai roads going by the sparkling new four-wheelers paraded on city roads day after day. But, where will they halt when they have to?

Almost all commercial establishments, barring high-end malls that make a fortune out of parking fees, shut their gates to customers’ vehicles. No long-time Chennai resident would ever venture out to shopping zones in T. Nagar, Purasawalkam or George Town in a car. A study undertaken by Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority in 2007 showed 64 buildings in T. Nagar — which were found violating building norms — together allotted parking spaces for just 86 cars, as against 2,611 slots they were expected to provide , as per building norms. Not much seems to have changed in the last five years, except that the Chennai Corporation, from time to time, threatens to come up with a multi-level parking system.

Take the city’s major hospitals that, with unmistakable pride, add to Chennai’s image of being a medical hub. I would be surprised if all the doctors working there managed to park and remove their cars in a hassle-free manner, let alone patients or their families. None of the banks that tirelessly spam your inboxes with car loan offers probably thinks you will drive down to one of their branches. Or so it seems, from the scarce parking space available at most banks. But some of these establishments, banks or hospitals, conveniently usurp common road space, earmarking it for their visitors. This, despite a Madras High Court directive in 2010 to the Chennai Corporation and asking them to curb this. Several apartment complexes cannot accommodate the cars of all owners putting tenants and guests in a fix. Office spaces are also struggling to provide adequate parking. The question of parking arises only when the cars are stationary, but for most part of the day, these vehicles are crisscrossing Chennai’s roads, frequently resulting in a massive pile-up. of vehicles.

If parking is a huge problem, traffic congestion is its twin. The Hindu’s front page report on Sunday, on a lottery in China that would give lucky winners the right to buy a car, seemed to ring a spooky alarm for Chennai as well. The photograph that went with the report was not taken in Beijing, where the government had to limit car sales, but on Nungambakkam High Road in the heart of Chennai. If my school friend were to meet me now, she would, perhaps, ask: “How do you manage with a car?”


Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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