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Thursday, April 26, 2012

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?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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.