On Street Parking Issues in India
A Daunting Situation
An interview with Shreya Gadepalli who leads the India & South Asia
Program of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
(ITDP), by Paul Barter. Shreya is based in Chennai, the city formerly known
as Madras, but travels frequently all over India.
“Parking on most streets in most Indian cities is un-managed and haphazard. People park any kind of vehicle in any location in any direction that they wish. Often parking occupies anywhere between a quarter to a half of the entire street right-of-way ...”, says Shreya. Most streets lack footpaths (sidewalks) and many buildings have been required to have a significant front setback. Parking typically straddles the open frontage of the building, across what should be the footpath, and onto the street.
Most people think the problem is a lack of parking and that the immediate solution is obviously to create more parking. But Shreya points out that multiple cities in India have attempted to solve their parking problems by creating off street parking and most are failing. So-called “Pay-and-Park” parking garages all over India are typically woefully under-used, while chaos continues in the nearby streets where there is practically no management or enforcement.
Shreya reminds us that even in the richest of India’s cities, it is still a small minority who are using cars. The single largest mode of transportation in Indian cities is walking. There are more cyclists on Indian streets then there are people in cars. And there are more people on public transportation (including informal shared autorickshaw services which run on fixed routes) than in cars or on motorcycles. So, parking management that effectively subsidizes car ownership and car use is incredibly unfair.
Pune has a history of limited on-street parking management. On-street parking fees existed, with very low rates, only in limited locations and enforcement efforts were weak. However, after nearly nine years of engagement with the civic body by ITDP and other civil society organizations, the city has adopted a progressive parking management policy focused on better management of parking on the streets.
Shreya emphasized that ITDP has been pushing in several cities for parking price-setting to be a technical process not a political process. They have been urging Shoup-style demand responsive price setting, so that whenever the demand for parking increases beyond a certain level (85 to 90 percent occupancy during peak hours) then the price should go up. Pune’s policy does indeed include talk about demand-based parking price setting. But it is too soon to know how that will be interpreted and implemented.
Shreya also highlighted some highly significant steps under way in Chennai, which is now starting a citywide parking management system, covering around 12,000 parking slots across the city. The management plan includes on-street parking fees of between 20 to 40 rupees per hour for cars and 5 to 10 rupees for motorcycles.
ITDP has been working with Chennai to avoid the trust problems associated with parking attendants collecting cash (the usual approach in India). So, Chennai is jumping straight to a modern mobile-based payment system.
It is dealing with the problem of out-of-towners and others who can’t use a mobile phone for whatever reason (no phone, dead battery, etc.) by planning simple alternatives, such as enlisting local shops as a place where one-off parking payments can be made.
Another important innovation to watch in Chennai is the approach to the parking management contract. Most Indian parking fee contracts are simply a matter of the city renting public space to private contractors in return for allowing them to collect fees. You could call it a land-rent approach.
But Chennai is now focused on parking management and the contract reflects that. The operator will be paid per parking slot per hour at a fixed rate in return for their management services, including fee collection. [For the policy wonks, it is like a gross cost contract in public transport.] The revenue will go directly to the city and not the parking operator. The revenue is then used to pay the operator as well as for public transport improvements and better walking and cycle infrastructure.
Ranchi, capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand, has also improved its parking management with help from ITDP. Starting in late 2016, Ranchi improved parking management on 2.5 km of Mahatma Gandhi Rd. About 550 slots were marked and four price zones delineated. Red means no parking. The orange zone has high fees (40 rupees per hour for cars and ten rupees per hour for motorcycles). The yellow zone has slightly lower-prices and the green zone even lower. These prices were much higher than what they were in the past and one key outcome was that the city’s parking revenue increased twelve-fold.
Unfortunately, the contract model was still one of essentially giving the land for rent. There were lots of hiccups and the first contract had to be ended. Currently, the city is managing with its own staff issuing paper tickets for users. However, the city wants to re-tender the parking management system and to add a few more key streets to the system.
Improvements in Delhi? Although Delhi parking fee contracts are also still land-rent in style, the parking fees have seen improvements. Parking used to cost a fixed amount of ten rupees per visit irrespective of the duration. This kind of fee is totally useless as parking management. As a result of weak on-street parking management, many of Delhi’s off-street “pay-and-park” garages sit largely empty.
More recently, Delhi public-sector parking fees have been around 20 rupees per hour, with a fee for every subsequent hour. This is much better as a rationing mechanism. Unfortunately, the contract approach is still one of essentially leasing out land for fairly short-term contracts ̶ typically one-year ̶ where the operator gets this land for a fixed fee, which they bid on, and thereafter they charge for parking at whatever the rates are supposed to be. This does not put much focus on parking management or the efficient use of public space.
Delhi is worth watching. Some recent parking policy developments in Delhi may have some promise, with all the right messages coming out about how parking needs to be charged and how usage of personal motor vehicles needs to be controlled. There are some odd aspects in the early steps, but time will tell.
The Traffic Police often “get it”
Surprisingly, Shreya had praise for the Traffic Police in many Indian cities. Although they are not under the control of the Municipal Corporations, most seem to “get the issue” and to understand that the solution for parking is management. This is important, since the enforcement task is a police responsibility in India. Police-based enforcement is often problematic in many countries, and I usually advocate having dedicated parking wardens under the control of local-government.
Making good use of parking revenues
I asked Shreya about the use of parking management revenues and whether any Indian cities are following Donald Shoup’s suggestion of strategically using such revenues to ease the politics of parking management. Traditionally, the money just goes into a central account of the Municipal Corporation. But Chennai, Pune, Ranchi and many others have been thinking of setting up Urban Transport Funds into which they would put transport revenue, such as any parking surplus, to be on better walking and cycling infrastructure and better public transportation. However, most such proposals have not yet made progress.
Paul Barter is Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Singapore. More information on this interview can be found on his blog, reinventingparking.org.