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Opinion: Why Free Parking On Public Roads Is A Practice That India Must End

"Parking is not a right, but a privilege you must pay for. Unfortunately, many car owners in India don't see it that way."

Opinion: Why Free Parking On Public Roads Is A Practice That India Must End

Parking is not a right, but a privilege. It’s something even the Central government once said in its 2011 National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) report.

“Parking is a consumer commodity, not a legal right. No subsidised parking is to be provided in public spaces. A user must pay the full cost of parking facility based on land opportunity cost, capital cost, O&M costs and temporal demand,” the report says.

Unfortunately, many car owners in India don’t see it that way.

With the phenomenal rise in vehicular demand, rising incomes and the aspirational value attached to owning a car, open spaces in residential colonies, footpaths, parks, and any area covered in any sort of vegetation have now given way to designated or illegal parking lots.

And we don’t even complain or raise concerns about it. New parking spaces (legal or not) have become like death and taxes in urban India; they’ve become inevitable.

In a country where it took 60 years to acquire 100 million vehicles but added another 100 million in just the next ten years, free parking has become both a serious urban planning and public health issue. When people say “it’s so tough to find parking space these days” or get stuck in never-ending traffic jams, a part of the reason why these things happen is because of haphazard parking, which is yet again a consequence of not putting a price on using up public spaces.

Any policy looking to address these concerns must begin with the assumption that vehicles are private goods, not public. If you pay taxes on fuel and the vehicle, the state isn’t obliged to offer you free parking on public roads. You aren’t doing them a favour by buying a car; it’s a choice you make.

A common sight around India. (Source: Facebook/Mibin Babu)
A common sight around India. (Source: Facebook/Mibin Babu)

“When a vehicle is parked on a road, it is an act of ‘privatising public space.’ When government provides parking for free, it is actually subsidising the storage of private goods. But since vehicles need to be driven around to be ‘productive,’ the government may oblige their owners by providing ‘storage spaces’ at the right price.

Gradually, the paid parking policy should be applied to all major roads, for paid parking is the best way to tackle the problem of haphazard parking.In a paid parking regime, people will have to either park at designated spaces or make different commuting choices,” says Rutul Joshi, a professor of urban planning at CEPT University, Ahmedabad, in a column for Scroll, earlier this month.

Instead, car-owners clamour for free or cheap parking wherever they go, and any attempt to charge them a fee is met with scorn, leading to a spate of haphazard parking which not only obstructs pedestrian movement but also causes serious traffic congestion—a significant waste of time and a serious public health issue considering the dangerous effects of vehicular pollution.

According to Joshi, most roads in Indian cities are only used at half capacity with parked vehicles encroaching into the other half. In cities like Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, parked vehicles take up 30% of all road space. While authorities in some cities crackdown on cars parked illegally or conduct drives against haphazard parking on public roads, they just don’t have the requisite institutional capacity to follow up on these acts.

Instead of addressing the problem of haphazard parking on public roads and disincentivising private car ownership by paying market price for the real estate you are temporarily occupying to park your car, municipal authorities have taken the short way out mandating minimum amounts of parking space to be built into residential or commercial complexes.

Parking in the middle of the road. (Source: Facebook/Kaushik Kathuri)
Parking in the middle of the road. (Source: Facebook/Kaushik Kathuri)

“Many Indian cities require developers to build a car park for each apartment, regardless of whether the occupant can afford a car, or if the building is situated near a mass transit system. The current master plan for Delhi (2021) stipulates a minimum of two parking slots per 100 sq. m of residential construction for housing across the city, and three for commercial areas.

The national building code 2016 also recommends two parking spaces per 100 sq. m of residential group and cluster housing constructed across the country. Through such rules, municipalities are essentially pricing out families relying on public transport from cities. Even investments in public transportation cannot fully undo the negative effects of these rules,” write Kshitij Batra and Rohan Shridhar, who are policy researchers with IDFC Institute in Mumbai, for Livemint.

In other words, urban planning policy in many Indian cities isn’t driven by a need to decongest roads before their infrastructure can no longer handle the volume of vehicles (just take a look at Bengaluru), requirement for more space to build affordable housing and offer the poor better public transit options, but by the whims and fancies of private vehicle owners.

This isn’t sustainable in the long term.

In the National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC) report published by the Union Ministry of Urban Development in 2011, similar suggestions against free or low-cost parking are made. These are some of the salient points:

1) All parking should be off-street. There should be no conflict between motorised vehicles and those who want to walk and bicycle. Walk and bicycle should become the favoured and most common mode of urban transport. (Something most municipal authorities don’t care about)

2) The National Urban Transport Policy has advocated the levying of high parking fee that represents the value of land occupied and to allocate parking space to public transport and nonmotorized transport on priority.

3) Private Vehicles must be parked on ‘a fully-paid rented or owned’ space. Proof of the same must be furnished before registering a private vehicle.

4) Parking Management is to be used as a demand management tool—to decrease use of private vehicles and thus reduce overall demand for parking, and shift travel to public transport, para-transport & non-motorized modes.

This car parked in the middle of the road causing traffic congestion. (Source: Facebook/Goa Traffic Police)
This car parked in the middle of the road causing traffic congestion. (Source: Facebook/Goa Traffic Police)

Various studies from around the world have shown that charging for on-street parking on designated major roads in the city in a transparent manner, and using the revenue generated to better design and manage roads, besides getting the citizen to pay up the total environmental cost of owning a car in the city, reduces not just traffic congestion, but also limits dependency on private vehicles.

Also Read: As Delhi Chokes on Its Traffic, the Solutions May Come From London

Municipal authorities, state governments and traffic police have to work out a pricing mechanism, and beyond that a way to enforce these high parking charges.

Free parking on public roads can no longer go on.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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