An expert's take on parking woes

So you know that Mumbai is the seventh largest metropolitan agglomeration in the world as per a 2011 United Nations’ report. Keeping this and the economic status of the city in mind, we wonder why whenever it comes to any kind of urban development issue, the rolling-the-eyes’ syndrome becomes a natural reaction. If we churn out a sizeable amount of revenue, why is it that an average Mumbaiite is stuck with — a once-titled Asia’s largest slum; usage of flyovers, buildings and hospitals that come with an asterisk saying collapse; and pedestrians who gingerly pave way to Siddhivinayak Mandir to pray for a safe return home?

Roadside parking at the Crawford Market junction. Pic/Shadab Khan 

Parking in the city
When Dr Paul Barter, a renowned expert on parking and transportation planning flew in to present global best practices on parking policies, opportunities and challenges confronting Indian cities, we decided it was time we were told that parking was all about space. Having authored Parking Policies in Asian cities for Asian Development Bank, and 18 years of experience in urban transportation under his belt, we were all ears. Dr Barter’s last eight years have been dedicated to parking concerns, and he dispels the oft-formulation of parking. “In urban development councils, parking is likened to toilets. Just the way toilets are a necessity when it comes to construction of buildings so is parking,” he shares.

Speaking of varied perceptions, the Australian parking guru calls for an understanding that identifies parking as an infrastructure that needs to be shared. Citing an example, he speaks of how a restaurant in San Francisco is actually 1/3rd in size but the rest is all parking. Justifying that fact, Dr Barter claims, “Worldwide, cities model parking efforts on the USA’s conventional suburban approach.”

The Asian conundrum
Asia, on the other hand, is a different ball game. Here, “nobody had a clear perspective on how parking is managed around in the Asian region,” says Dr Barter till he wrote on the scenario.

Sharing a diagram Dr Barter indexes Mumbai’s standing. To give an idea, he speaks of Tokyo, which “has 2,50,000 to 3,00,000 cars per thousand people and is considered high by Asian standards but not Western. Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, however, have a very similar scenario as Mumbai.” Nodding to that, Pawan Mulukutla, project manager — urban transport, EMBARQ India who has coordinated Dr Barter’s visit to the city, informs us, “Dr Barter is helping EMBARQ India in addressing parking conditions in a business district like MIDC Marol and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around Ghatkopar.” With intriguing details slated for urban transport the two will break down the city’s parking problems for us. Mulukutla has over 12 years of experience in transportation planning and traffic engineering.

Why Parking fails?
>> Parking is either on-site (next to the location the motorist wants to enter) or off-site (away from the location to which the motorist needs to walk to).

>> Dr Barter feels that off-site parking plots, especially when it comes to multi-level parking hardly works.

>> Talking about Harbin, a key communications hub in China, he says, “while the parking plots are empty, there is complete chaos on the streets.” So in most cases, off-site parking doesn’t work as they remain glaringly empty.

What’s the solution?
>> Management of street parking needs to be looked at, emphasises Barter. He feels that it can only be implemented through effective pricing.

>> “Efficient pricing does increase perceived capacity of on-street parking,” he suggests where the people who park for longer durations such as employees, will shift to off-site parking, for they will not mind walking some distance twice in the day. On the other hand, a shopper who needs to spend two hours on the location will have on-site parking available. This can have cleared spaces in busy regions of the city.

How do we start effective pricing?
>> On-street parking price should be charged for 85% of the occupancy.

>> Though the pricing should not be used to generate revenue; treating it as a by-product, one can use it to be used by local stakeholders to make the transport better.

Where do we start?
>> As most parking spaces are used by a community, parking should compulsively be shared or open to public.

>> Introduce private companies to manage parking as it’ll ensure competition and effectively manage parking requirements.

Mumbai: Now
According to Asian Development Bank (ADB), Mumbai has the lowest off-street parking market prices and on-street parking is largely not regulated (free of cost).

>> In contrast to this reality, the real estate prices in Central Business District areas in the city are above those in other global cities, such as Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Chicago, Singapore, Los Angeles, Washington DC, among others, and is comparable to those in New York midtown and Milan (ADB 2011). This situation reveals, the hidden subsidies to car users who get free of cost space that is entitled to public revenue in the first place.

>> This really calls for introspection since 78% of the population of Mumbai travel using public transport.

>> With the annual addition of more than 50,000 cars (Transport Commissioner Office, Government of Maharashtra) excluding a larger number of two wheelers, as well as substantial increases in commercial vehicles, there will be a huge requirement of new parking spaces each year.

>> In Mumbai, the proportion of free parking on roads is ample, while the parking cost is low — between `5 and `20 per hour. The city is at the lower end in terms of pricing for parking when compared to other cities around the globe like Hong Kong and New York, monthly parking rates for a reserved parking space ranges from `10,000 to `20,000.

How can we change it?
>> Plan and price on-street parking in relation to convenience

>> Incentivise shared parking as a way to make a more efficient use of off-street parking

>> Carry out transport impact assessment studies for each redevelopment project, given that the traffic situation is in complete gridlock.

>> Utilise existing BEST depots for private bus parking

>> Use technology to enable users to make informed decisions on where to park and other available modes of commuting

>> Strict enforcement by a special unit — engage private contractors to manage parking for effective enforcement and compliance.

>> At the city level, a Comprehensive Parking Unit (CPU) for Mumbai should be established that will look after all on-street and vertical parking, management, personnel management for operation, marking, metering as well as use of smart cards, other electronic devices for information and effective controls. It can work towards a regime of close to market driven prices (gradually) and develop compliance mechanisms. The CPU should be created as a special wing with necessary budget, space and personnel. 

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