Saturday, September 4, 2010

Singapore public-sector parking - part 2: HDB's full parking lots

Saturday, September 04, 2010

In this post I want to focus on the problem of residents' complaints over full parking lots in many HDB (public housing) estates. The aim today is to understand the problem and the existing approaches to addressing it.

When I started writing this, I intended to consider whether performance-based parking pricing might be able to help. This would be of wide interest, since US experiments with such pricing so far have not included residential parking (which would be even more controversial). But this post is already long, so I will save that topic for another day. 

In part 1 on Thursday I expressed surprise that Singapore has not tackled parking issues with its trademark demand-responsive pricing approach. But when it comes to residential parking issues I guess it is not so very surprising. Residential parking the world over is especially political. Furthermore, Singapore's other pricing solutions in urban transport are not exactly popular so you can understand wariness about adding another one.

Supply decisions respond to demand but prices don't

As I mentioned in part 1, HDB parking prices generally don't vary from place to place. The agency balances supply and demand with a predict-and-provide approach (which takes the existing prices as a given rather than using them to dampen increases in demand). So over the long-term, expanding supply to meet demand is the main strategy. This is less problematic and is easier in Singapore than elsewhere because of the control over the rate of growth of the car fleet.

HDB also has a range of non-pricing tactics to give residents priority over visitors.

For example, nighttime (10.30pm to 7am) visitor parking can be forbidden altogether in locations with high overnight demand. Many residential parking lots in HDB are currently free on Sundays and public holidays. This can be withdrawn if demand is too high.

Red line markings ('red lots'*) indicate parking spots that are reserved for season permit holders only. 'White lots' can be used by visitors at any time. In the face of excessive demand, HDB can reduce white spaces and increase the number of red ones. This year it also introduced a new colour code ('bi-coloured lots', both red and white) to indicate more clearly those parking spaces which are reserved for residents only part time (7pm to 7am and on Sundays and public holidays). Red paint will now say unambiguously 'residents only'. 

HDB also gives priority to the first car in a household (see near the bottom of this news item). Subsequent cars are at the end of the queue and therefore get season parking permits only in parking lots with enough space. These may be further from the home. In the debates over the current 'shortages', some folks have also suggested charging second and subsequent cars a much higher price for season parking.

An HDB multi-storey car park with roof-garden (in Sengkang)

Recently, HDB broke with the pattern above and announced a price change

HDB is doubling the overnight (10.30pm-7am) visitor parking fee (from S$2 to S$4). This will help a little I think but it doesn't address the crux of the current problems (as observers, including ruling-party MPs, have noted). But is it a sign of things to come?

What is the problem really?

Despite Singapore's vehicle quota system, car ownership rose more rapidly than intended in recent years. This has apparently overwhelmed HDB's residential parking supply in certain areas. So some estates are now facing a 'parking crunch'.

Parking saturation problems reportedly affect about 10% of HDB's parking spaces. If you don't know Singapore, that might sound trivial. But note that HDB estates house about 80% of the resident population and slightly more than 30% of these households own a car. The number of people who care about HDB parking issues is large.

I would also guess that a much larger proportion of HDB's resident motorists perceive a parking problem in their area. Experience around the world suggests that there doesn't have to be an absolute shortage in a locality to spark complaints. Irritation over parking 'shortage' can appear as soon as the most convenient and attractive spaces are consistently full at busy times.

Two different problems?

From reports over the last year or so, it looks to me like there may be two different kinds of HDB 'parking crunch'.

Version #1: Places where visitors add to the residential demand and overwhelm parking capacity at certain times. Locations with this kind of 'parking crunch' have enough parking for residents and may have empty spaces at 3am. But residents may have trouble finding a spot if they return home at a busy time. Places with this problem seem to be near the town centres of HDB estates, where there are shops, public facilities and commercial buildings.

Version #2: Places that face saturated parking even very late at night. Car ownership seems to have risen faster than HDB expected, especially in certain outer areas such as Sengkang. Recent news reports speak of residents having to park quite distant from their homes or being 'forced' to resort to illegal parking (outside the designated slots).

Solutions?

It sounds like HDB intends to address the 'parking crunch' (at least version #1) with variations on its usual methods as mentioned above (eg more red lots, fewer white ones).

Problem version #2 is more difficult. HDB's main answer is to expand supply, but that will take some time. The government is also putting tighter brakes on the rate of car ownership growth, which should slow the rate at which these parking problems worsen.

Presumably a combination of these policies can eventually solve the problem in the sense of preventing demand exceeding supply in most HDB parking lots.

Nevertheless, I can't help wondering if a more market-like arrangement for HDB parking might be more efficient and fair. It is a complex issue which I will save for another day or another outlet. 

* In Singapore English usage, the term 'lot' usually refers to a parking space, hence 'red lots' and 'white lots' refer to individual parking slots, not whole parking facilities. 
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1 comments :

  1. The govt. has increased the night parking from $2 to $4. Why don't they increase the parking
    time from 10.30 pm to 8.30 am the next day?. Don't you think 7.30 am is too early?

    ReplyDelete