Monday, August 17, 2015

Paving paradise and putting up a parking lot? It should cost!

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” – these are a few words of a song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by American singer Joni Mitchell. This song summarises the problems created by the relentless parking in our cities. Best of public spaces or common spaces in residential areas are now parking lots. Can you imagine the municipal market at the CG road without parked vehicles? Probably, you will see some beautiful fountains and children playing around a nice plaza. Can you imagine alternative use of spaces in your residential area if it was not fully covered with parking? Probably, children would have lot many spaces to play around without the fear of vehicles and the elderly people would have lot many spaces to ‘hang around’.

The car ownership in India is still very low compared to many other developing countries and with increasing income, more and more families are going to buy cars. The families who already have cars will buy bigger cars. The city will have to make provision for at least two parking spaces per car – one at home and one near the workplace or the shopping place, which will be about 25 square metres per car. This is a huge burden on urban infrastructure to provide so much of floor space for the storage of the vehicles. Besides, one of these parking spaces is always going to remain empty. Parking space is a dead space – it cannot be used for anything else. So who should be investing in the parking infrastructure or whose responsibility is it to provide parking for the vehicles in a city?

Vehicles are private goods. When someone parks a car on a public road, it is an act of ‘privatising the public space’. When the government provides parking for free, they are subsidising the storage of private goods. Why should the government subsidise the storage of private goods? Yet some vehicle owners expect the provision of free parking anywhere and everywhere. To satisfy this demand of the vehicle owners, the government typically supplies multi-storey parking lots.

People who understand parking economics do not think of the multi-storey parking lots as the right solution. Let’s take for example the parking lot near Kankaria Lake, which used crores of rupees from the public exchequer. This multi-storey parking lot remains mostly vacant even in the peak hours while there is parking chaos on the road outside. Why should someone park inside this multi-storey parking lot when they can park on the road for free? The only way to get vehicle owners to park inside the multi-storey parking lots is to keep the parking charges on the streets higher than the parking lots.

It is imperative to take parking charges from every parked vehicle on all major roads for the act of ‘privatising the public space’. The international experience shows that the vehicles ‘disappear’ from roads when the parking is charged and when parking is free, more and more people are encouraged to take the vehicles out even for short trips. Paid parking would lead to better street design and management. If parking is charged on all major roads on the city, there will be a compulsion to provide designated parking lots, the parking chaos will be curtailed and more spaces will open up for the pedestrians.

(3rd August, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)

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