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We need to revisit our parking policy

Along with rapid pace of urbanisation and bulging mid-income group population, India has seen an exponential growth in its vehicle population which comes with attendant issues like pollution and scarcity of parking space. In fact, saturation of parking spaces is one of the most common problems today faced in Indian cities. Vehicles continue to outnumber existing parking spaces, thus clogging roads. Incidences of violence over occupancy, deformed cars due to a space crunch, and overcharging for parking are some problems that result. Overcrowded footpaths, illegal parking, and criminal activities due to improper surveillance – all have their origin in one common factor, that is, scarcity of parking space.

Yes, increasing the parking space is the plausible solution but it is easier said than done as the available land in cities is stagnant or even shrinking. Immediate victim of this challenge are the parks and the vacant spots that are being used as potential parking spaces.

Till very recently, parking spaces in cities were available freely or at a nominal cost. But as the number of people using vehicles have gone up phenomenally demand for parking space has increased without corresponding increase in the parking infrastructure. Also, its true that parking fees charged by the local governments have not been revised keeping in mind the growing demand. For instance, Mumbai charges the same parking fee as it did 20 years ago and has one of the lowest tariffs in the world. Also, its true that parking price stops increasing after a certain period of time, the longer one stays in a parking space, the less one has to pay.

One of the biggest hurdles being faced while framing the parking policy is the lack of credible data about the availability of space and the number of vehicles. Also, parking rates are fixed arbitrarily without considering the value of land, number of hours parked and the amount of environment damage the vehicle is causing. Though parking is an important aspect its rarely taken into account while granting permission for any commercial activity. For example, an eatery nowadays requires more area for parking than dining purpose. But this aspect is always ignored while granting permission for the eatery.

Meanwhile, the urban planners should also keep in mind that prioritizing cars limits space for housing, businesses, parks and other land uses that benefit citizens and contribute to local tax bases. Therefore, urban planning should not be car-centric but always take into account the well being of the majority. We are still unclear about the long term impact of the Covid-19 on usage of personal vehicles. But one thing is sure, work from home and online shopping practices which are becoming widespread in post-Covid era may have some favourable impact on parking problem. To that extent we have to be thankful to the pandemic.

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