The Chennai City Traffic Police's month-long community outreach programme on parking-related issues, which came to a close last weekend, might pave the way for some long-term solutions. The police is in the process of carrying out a detailed review and intends to submit a series of recommendation to the Chennai Corporation soon.
The exercise threw up some positives, many aspects that require further attention, and the pressing need for a city-wide parking policy.
“It has been a mixed bag,” said Sanjay Arora, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic). “We found that motorists followed the rules in all the locations where our efforts naturally aligned with their interests. Wherever we clearly marked on-street parking zones with yellow paint, there was a high degree of compliance. But parking still hampers traffic flow in many stretches and we continue to struggle.”
The number of cases booked against vehicles left in no parking zones or obstructing traffic flow rose dramatically in the one month period. Against a monthly average of 6,000 ‘no parking' cases, the traffic police booked nearly 30,000 such cases from September 15 to October 15.
However, a recent study on parking management in the city shows that such enforcement drives do not achieve much. “Unfortunately, enforcement is the only mechanism that is currently available to deal with the problem,” says Sampath Simon of the Chennai City Connect Foundation, an NGO which commissioned the study.
The basic problem, he says, is that the city is overly subsidising parking. “Parked cars eat up seven per cent of Chennai's total area, but most of that prime urban space is given away for free. Even in many of the 138 parking lots in the city, a car can be parked indefinitely for Rs.5,” Mr.Simon says.
A parked car occupies about 230 sq. feet of land. The rental value of that strip of land in a commercial area such as T.Nagar is Rs.10,000/month.
“This shows how much we are currently subsidising parking. The city must realise that parking is not the only need. There are competing needs such as safe walkways for pedestrians and adequate space on the road for public transport buses. For everything else, you charge the real estate price. So why not for parking too?” Mr.Simon asks. A hike in the parking rates is expected to be one of CCTP's suggestions to the Corporation.
Greater priority for pedestrians and buses is also a demand of many residents' groups. V. Subramani of the Traffic and Transportation Forum, a suburban residents' collective, says: “Parking should be banned on bus route roads. Access to public transport is more essential than the convenience of car and two-wheeler owners.”
Shreya Gadepalli, director of the Ahmedabad-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), says that adequate resources to enforce parking regulations can only come from fairly priced parking charges. “It is a loop. Currently, most Indian cities claim to have no money or resources to stringently go after violators.”
For example, Chennai has only 20 tow trucks to monitor the city's 34 lakh vehicles. Once parking charges generate adequate revenue, it can be used to set up a fund that finances enforcement measures.
“A consortium consisting of the police and the municipal body can administer the fund. The actual enforcement can even be outsourced,” says Ms. Gadepalli.
A number of European cities have such an arrangement.
The city of Budapest generated $56 million last year from parking charges, of which 30 per cent was spent on enforcement, she says. The rest was used to procure public transit buses with signs that read ‘Thank you for paying the parking fee'. “The campaign made sure that every citizen knew they were contributing to build a better city,” Mr.Gadepalli adds.