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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Singapore parking policy in need of a rethink?

Singapore was the main focus of my Op Ed on parking yesterday (Aug 15) in the Straits Times (Singapore).  Here is the link for ST subscribers.

UPDATE: The whole Op Ed can be downloaded here (pdf).

Yesterday, I shared my brief explanation of the three main 'flavours' of parking policy.

Today I want to share the Singapore-focused parts of the Op Ed.

Queuing for parking outside the Nex shopping centre at Serangoon Central, Singapore

I have added a few links. These might be useful if you are not already familiar with parking in Singapore.
Singapore has had "parking crunches" in Housing Board estates and the city centre and disputes in landed residential areas. Shopping malls and places of worship provoke parking fears among neighbours. And eatery districts, such as Serangoon Gardens, have had their growth capped over parking woes. 
No city totally avoids parking problems and it may seem small comfort that at least we don't have parking murders, parking gangster turf wars and rampant parking corruption, as some countries have. 
But internationally, parking policy is now seeing a wave of innovation, technological change and challenges to the conventional ways of doing things. 
So this may be a good time for a review of parking policy in Singapore. 
Parking policy has been a neglected leg of our land transport policy platform. As a result, it is not well aligned with our other priorities. This forces more weight onto the other legs, including the vehicle quota system, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), and road building. And it undermines still others, such as public transport. 
A better parking policy should not only address the complaints above but also help deliver more affordable housing and less congestion. 
Does that sound too good to be true? As you may have guessed, achieving such benefits often involves unpopular steps, such as strong enforcement and parking pricing reform. 
I think of urban parking policy as having three main "flavours". Let's call them American vanilla ice cream, European dark chocolate, and Japanese sushi bar. 
...  [See yesterday's post for more on these three flavours]  ...

What of Singapore? 
Our current approach is a hybrid but it includes too much of the American suburban approach for a dense city which needs to constrain cars. 
Is it efficient that even shoebox units of less than 50 sq m must be built with one parking space (which consumes about 30 sq m when aisles and ramps are included)? Consider how much more affordable such units would be if they could be built with fewer parking spaces. 
Is requiring every building, even next to an MRT interchange, to have "adequate" parking really in line with the goal of promoting public transport? 
Is it efficient to have a uniform price (50 cents per half hour) across most of the island for HDB and URA visitor parking even if this causes crowding at many places and empty lots at others. 
Is HDB's affordable housing mission well served by having season parking prices that are the same for every estate? Prices of flats vary from place to place, so why not parking? 
The uniform price implies HDB parking prices are artificially low in central areas with expensive land and overpriced in outer areas. It also means that households which need a car but struggle with the costs cannot now move to areas with cheaper parking, since there are no such areas. 
Could performance pricing rather than caps on growth be able to manage parking issues in and around entertainment and food hubs? Such pricing would have to extend into nearby residential areas, with residents needing season parking permits. This would not be popular in streets which currently lack pricing but such residents might be persuaded by the promise that, so long as visitor prices are adjusted correctly, there should always be spaces available for residents when they return. 
So what flavour parking approach would best suit Singapore? Less "vanilla ice cream" and more "dark chocolate" or "sushi bar" should achieve better alignment between parking and our other important priorities.

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