The first two days of September saw two big changes to make India’s streets safer, freer and less congested. The new Motor Vehicles rules came into force on the first of September, attempting the impossible, controlling the behaviour of Indian motorists on the streets. Through heavier penalties, the rules seek to reduce violations. On September 2, the Supreme Court released a judgment on the Delhi Maintenance and Management of Parking Places Rules 2019, under the umbrella of the MC Mehta case. This judgment can be seen as a landmark not just for improving parking management in our cities, but also for other steps towards reclaiming spaces for pedestrians.
Our cities are known for their chaotic streets. Pedestrians and cyclists competing with other vehicles for space on the streets is a common sight. This is further exacerbated by the ever increasing need for parking space for all these vehicles, mostly on the street or on footpaths, blocking the movement of traffic and pedestrians. The Supreme Court judgment begins with an admonishment of the state for its failure to provide adequate public transport, and mismanaging the consequences of that failure, the increasing number of private vehicles that have taken over our streets.
The judgment has taken some progressive first steps, emphasising some important aspects such as the need for footpaths in all residential areas to be cleared of encroachments to make it usable for pedestrians, and the significance of modern technology in ensuring efficient utilisation of parking spaces. It also raises the possibility of charging people for parking, though leaving that decision to the state.
However, there are some aspects of the judgment that need more scrutiny. The judgment also called on city planners and architects to provide adequate off-street parking at major demand hubs – commercial and institutional areas, transportation hubs, etc – accommodating the potential demand for the next 25 years. The order touches multiple times on creating off street parking spaces to cater to parking demand. This can be effective only post an effective on street demand based priced PM system.
Multilevel car parking (MLCP) complexes are one such solution to provide off-street parking. It is a popular myth that high parking demand can be addressed by building MLCP complexes. However, examples from India and around the world clearly indicate that it is a short-sighted attempt. In India, these MLCPs are built at great public cost and remain underutilised and vacant in many cases. Most often, the high demand is an apparent local demand, centred around one or two streets with higher levels of activity (commercial for example), while the other streets in the neighbourhood are relatively free of vehicular parking. This demand could be eased by zone-based on-street parking management, so that parking supply is distributed evenly across different streets in the neighbourhood. Hence, detailed studies are required before proposing new MLCPs.
Another way to provide off-street parking are requirements that already exist in the Development Control Regulations(DCR) set by local development authorities, but are not adhered to in many cases. That might not be such a bad thing.
These requirements are referred to as parking minimums. They are laws that require property developers to include a fixed number of off-street parking spaces according to the size of a building. The reasoning for this is that without enough off-street parking, efficient traffic flow can be compromised due to vehicles cruising for parking or parking on the street. These parking minimums can be extremely problematic in practice.
The hidden costs of parking
Global experts on parking such as Donald Shoup and Paul Barter point out that providing for parking minimums has a cost. By forcing developers to build huge amounts of parking, these rules increase traffic and harm the environment by encouraging more people to drive. They also lead to inefficient land use. Planners and architects tend to overestimate the demand, providing more off-street parking than necessary, leading to wastage of space. The increased cost of development are then passed on to buyers, even those who may not own vehicles.
At the same time, there is a reluctance to engage with managing on-street parking demand. This leads to a situation where we see the extremes of large, empty parking lots and streets choked with parked vehicles. As a society, we should think about the sense in using up valuable space to prioritise private vehicle parking demand for the next twenty-five years.
Cities around the world have moved away from the concept of parking minimums, realising that they result in a wastage of both public and private land and investments. Mexico City has now converted their parking minimums into a parking maximum. This would change the high levels of mandated parking into the maximum allowed amount of parking, allowing developers to provide lower amounts of parking. Parking maximums are more effective because they ensure that excessive parking is not created based on norms, and developers can choose to provide less parking according to market demand. Any parking above 50 percent of the maximum would be charged and the revenues from this fee would be used to improve public transport and subsidise housing.
Across our cities, free parking is viewed as a right by motorists, leading to a reluctance by city authorities and private developers to charge the full cost of parking onto motorists. It is strange that most people are outraged at having to pay for parking, while showing no surprise on hearing the cost of property in commercial and residential areas. Why should the cost of land for parking not be the same as commercial or residential rental value in a locality? Charging people for parking would discourage personal motor vehicle use, shift to alternative modes and ensure that they pay for the valuable public space they use up for parking.
As the judgment rightly observed, a primary cause for our current situation has been the failure of our governments to provide adequate good quality public transport. While enforcing the new Motor Vehicles act and creating efficient parking management systems are much needed steps, they will fail to achieve their goals without the support of an efficient public transportation system and last mile connectivity.
The judgment is a great start to a national level discussion on parking. Delhi has notified the Delhi Maintenance and Management of Parking Places Rules 2019 which aims to dramatically change parking in Delhi. The policy contains provisions to formulate hundreds of area-specific parking plans which will be developed in an exhaustive exercise over the next four months. Bengaluru and Hyderabad have also attempted to implement parking policies. Cities like Shimla and Gangtok have already created and approved city-wide parking policies. Chennai is also on the way to implementing a parking management system across the city.
Efficient parking management can be an effective way to ensure better streets and cities. Removing parking minimums and charging people for parking are important and necessary steps that can help cities to effectively manage the demand for parking. The judgment is a good starting point and Indian cities have already started taking the first steps towards this future.
Written by Keshav Suryanarayanan
Technical Direction: Vishnu Mohanakumar, AV Venugopal, Aswathy Dilip