Thursday, April 26, 2012

Can India's cities escape their nasty parking spiral?

Can India's cities escape their nasty parking spiral?
More and more Indian cities see parking as a crisis.

That could be a good thing! A crisis can open minds to alternatives that were unthinkable before.

typical news item this week gives a taste. It is from Patna but could be in any Indian city.
PATNA: The parking lots available in the city are not enough to accommodate even 5% of the vehicles registered with the district transport office (DTO). ...  commuters say they are forced to park vehicles on the roadside due to lack of sufficient parking space. Priyanka Kumari, a bank employee, argues, "Most of the time I park my vehicle on the roadside due to lack of parking lots. I have been fined twice, but what can I do? When the administration cannot provide parking space, what moral right does it have to impose fine on us?" ... The Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) is working out plans to solve this problem. "We are thinking of constructing some multi-storied and underground parking lots in the city," said PMC commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pal. 

Indian cities have a nasty parking spiral of low prices, high demand and on-street chaos, no commercial supply and desperation for subsidized supply

The current approach is not working. Obviously something has to change. But what?

Let's unravel the spiral in a bit more detail:
  • Parking prices are extremely low, if there is charging at all
  • Enforcement is weak and intermittent. The howls of protest in Patna above reflect dismay at being fined for parking as usual. 
  • Car and motorcycle ownership is rocketing upwards. 
  • Everyone says that there is a shortage of legitimate places to park near most centres of activity. 
  • The walking environment is uncomfortable (partly because of all the chaotic parking), so parking three or four hundred metres away is not considered an option by prosperous car owners. 
  • Despite the local shortages, there is little private investment in off-street parking. It is simply a terrible investment when the competition is cheap or free/illegal parking in streets so no-one is willing to pay much for parking, nor to walk far to reach it. 
  • So most Indian cities look to American suburban-style parking norms (the local name for minimum parking requirements). These force building developers to create enough parking regardless of returns. They are forced to cross-subsidize their parking from other business activities, which means customers who use no parking space at all are forced to pay for it too. If you think this is a good idea for dense cities, consider the results of 50 years of this for America's inner cities.  
  • However, there is dismay (and ruthless enforcement) when building owners 'flout the norms' and fail to put much actual parking in the required parking areas. Why would they do that? Motorists are not willing to pay much and anyway often shun off-street parking altogether. So keeping precious built space for parking can seem like a waste. Remember, these are dense cities with high land prices. So it must be very tempting to use the space for something else. 
  • India's cities are therefore also scrambling to promise to build off-street parking structures themselves. But the pricey land means this is only an option on existing city-owned land (never mind the opportunity cost!) or even under parks. But the costs are still too high when weighed against the low returns. 
  • City-owned facilities must therefore be heavily subsidized. With every such structure, well-to-do car owners get another regressive subsidy from cash strapped local governments. This is money that could be used for much much better things. So maybe it is a blessing that progress on building such structures is extremely slow. Perhaps failure will force a rethink on parking policy. 

How can India's cities escape this parking spiral?

Something has to change.  

Low on-street prices and weak on-street enforcement are key sources of this nasty spiral. Doing better will require (at least) tackling these sources.

There are signs that various activists and officials in Indian cities agree. Will action follow?


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Motorcycles overcharged for parking

Motorcycles overcharged for parking
South Asia and Indonesia seem especially to charge motorcycles too much to park relative to cars*.

At this mall in Palembang motorcycles cost Rp2,000 while cars cost Rp3,000 to park. (Rp3,000 is about US 30 cents) Although many Indonesian cities have government-controlled prices for their shopping malls, Palembang is an exception with market prices in its shopping centres. The price in the nearby streets is Rp1,000 for motorcycles and Rp2,000 for cars. 

Based on the space used, paying half the car price is way too much for motorcycles.

Of course, we might be wary of encouraging motorised two-wheelers too much. Motorcycle use is risky. And, despite low fuel consumption, they may actually be worse than cars for local air pollution problems, as in Hanoi. But parked motorcycles are certainly much more space efficient than parked cars.

How much more space efficient?  As I said in the Parking Policy in Asian Cities report:
A lower bound is suggested by Western norms of about 3–5 motorcycles in one car space, but in practice in the Asian cities studied the answer is much higher at between 4.5 and 10. Singapore’s parking standards ... suggest that between 4.6 and 6 motorcycle spaces take the same area as a car space... In India, motorcycle spaces are assumed to take 0.16 of an equivalent car space (ECS), suggesting a little over 6 two-wheelers per car space ... Viet Nam’s parking standards suggest ... about 8–10 motorcycle spaces per car space.

And most of these numbers don't seem to take account of aisles, which can be very narrow within motorcycle-only parking areas. So parking Asia's small motorcycles may be even more space efficient than these numbers suggest.

A motorcycle-only parking area in Ahmedabad's walled city area. 

Does it seem unreasonable that parking fees should be proportional to the area used by each vehicle type?

Isn't it obviously unfair to ask motorcycle users to cross-subsidize the parking of car users? Car owners are typically much wealthier than motorcycle users, especially in Indonesia and South Asia.

* Of course, both motorcycles AND cars may be under-priced based on other criteria, but that is another story.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

SFPark gets some love

This Editorial voices strong support for SFPark's performance pricing project. It is from San Francisco's Examiner newspaper.

Some excerpts:

This demand-based pricing appears to be working. For instance, the agency recently announced that the average price at city-owned parking garages has dropped 95 cents since the SFpark rate changes began. For example, drivers can currently park all day at the Marina parking garage on Lombard Street for $2 an hour or less, according to the transit agency. The hourly rate for other city-owned garages is higher, but this is a pricing model that makes sense — charging more for things that are in demand, and less for those that are not.  ... 

Parking meters also have been adjusted under SFpark. High-demand meters can cost drivers up to $4.75 an hour under the current pricing structure. But drivers willing to park a little farther from the hustle and bustle can pay as little as 25 cents per hour. Before, motorists who parked in spaces on the fringes of commercial districts still had to pay the same rate as those who parked in the middle of the action. Now, such drivers receive a discounted rate. 

...  If the anti-car rhetoric were true, the agency would have hiked all of its parking meter rates to nearly $5 an hour and charged sky-high rates for all of its parking garages. But the agency has begun wisely managing its parking spaces to fill the available spots.  {Read more at the San Francisco Examiner}

Does that sound like something your city could embrace?

I have previously explained the basic idea of performance pricing.  You can also learn more by reading all the Reinventing Parking posts with the tag 'performance pricing'.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Seoul's parking - a visual tour

Seoul's parking - a visual tour
I think I'll do some photographic posts to ease me back into blogging here. Apologies for the lengthy silence.

Let's start with Seoul.

In the business districts, we find some Japanese style automated parking towers. 


The City Government has also been keen (in the past?) on parking under parks.

Parts of Seoul have an on-street residential parking permit system. Permits are issued by the local ward ('Gu') governments and give access to a shared row of permit-parking-only spaces, marked with a code. You can buy day, night or day+night permits. In this area, 3 months of day+night permit costs 40,000 won (US$35).



Seoul's 'green parking' policy is not what I assumed it would be. It involves removing the fences around houses to make some space for parking. The local government chips in with some funds and maybe even a little public space. So this policy is actually about increasing parking space in old residential areas. Hmm. As a side benefit it also purports to improve neighbourhood friendliness by removing high walls.
Seoul's 'green parking' policy at work.

The battle against nuisance parking has been heating up and resorting to CCTV enforcement in known parking trouble spots.

Seoul has an interesting relationship with priced parking.


On the one hand, Seoul's major business districts have parking maximums. This results in quite high prices and a thriving commercial parking industry there.

These areas coincide with the highest-price zone for on-street parking and public-sector off-street parking. On-street parking here costs 1000 Won per 10 minutes (US$0.90 or so - meaning $5.40 per hour).

On-street parking pricing in Seoul is via parking attendants who wield digital handhelds.


Surprisingly, there is a lot of free parking outside the major business districts.

Shopping centres mostly have priced parking but a large proportion of visitors are eligible for a validation, so most park for free in practice.

The ubiquitous free parking in Seoul is despite its high urban densities. Not surprisingly, there is extreme pressure on the existing parking supply in many areas.


Demand for the free parking exceeds supply in many areas. The pressure is such that double-parking has been institutionalised with markings in parking areas. Almost every car has a little label in the window, with the mobile phone number of the owner, so they can be contacted to move their car, having blocked another one in.


Many streets have parking in the frontage of the shops. Some of this creates an unpleasant walkway environment. This is similar to the scene in Indonesia or the Philippines.


For a comparative perspective on parking policy and conditions in Seoul, try "Parking Policy in Asian Cities".
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