You must have seen people who push their way through the queues at the airport, people who honk indiscriminately at the moving vehicles in front, people who throw garbage out of moving cars, people who feel proud of making noise at the restaurants. These people have a great sense of entitlements and they have assumed that they deserve everything they can grab. They feel deeply threatened when their sense of entitlement is challenged. These are the people, who fight for parking spots and believe that it is the obligation of the city to provide space for their car wherever they need.
Parking spots are weirdly linked with the vehicle owner’s ego and the size of the ego is directly proportional to the size of the vehicle they drive. Many vehicles owners think, it is their birth right to get free parking every where. Free parking is usually haphazard parking, which not only obstructs the pedestrian movement but the moving vehicles on the streets. Most of the roads in our cities operate on half their capacity andparked vehicles occupy the other half. We keep making multi-storied parking buildings, which remain empty, but the parking on the streets is chaos.
Every large city in Gujarat and elsewhere requires a policy of paid parking on all their major roads. The international experience shows that the paid parking policies have magical effect of removing unnecessary parking from the streets. This goes a long way in opening up the pedestrian paths and smoothening the traffic flow. But to convert the free parking lots in all major roads into the paid parking lots is a very unpopular move. Because many car owners think that free parking is their entitlement that the government is supposed to provide. The government officials who move around in official vehicles also feel that it is too harsh to charge for parking. This mindset needs to change.
Vehicular parking is similar to street vending as both occupy public spaces like roads for private activities. Arguably, both are economic generating activities and add to the vibrancy of the city. Yet both are treated entirely differently in popular perceptions and thus, by the city government. When word ‘encroachments’ is used generally for the street vendors and not for the freely parked vehicles. The municipal raids to clear ‘encroachments’ do not touch the parked vehicles. Vendors are often under threats by the police and they are pushed around at different occasions. But vehicles can be parked freely anywhere and everywhere. Even the traffic police is selective about the kind of vehicles they catch to fine.
I am optimistic about paid parking policy to become a reality soon. The ever-increasing vehicles on the roads are going to force us to think of new ways of dealing with the ‘parking problem’. In a welcome move, the Ahmedabad’s Municipal Corporation and the Traffic Police have decided to have the paid parking lots around the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway. The CG road has had paid parking lots for two decades now but there is lot of unpaid parking in the side lanes. If our cities want to save their streets from being converted into permanent parking lots then the paid parking needs to be extended to its all major roads.
(17th August, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)