Private vehicles eating into scare public land
Delhi's parking crisis plays itself out in residential and commercial areas
Delhi has more than 4 million registered vehicles as of now. Nearly 360,000 vehicles were added in 2005-06, estimating from the data of that year's
Economic Survey of Delhi
. That worked out to an average of 994 new vehicles a day, of which 963 were private vehicles, of which 308 were
cars. In terms of growth rate, private cars recorded the highest figure--92 per cent--between 1995 and 2005.
This growth has created, and continues to create, an exponentially increasing demand for parking space, bringing about a land crisis in Delhi. The
crisis plays itself out both in residential areas and commercial parking lots. While commercial parking sites have a modicum of management,
residential areas are witnessing a sociological change. "Parking is becoming a ground for discord among neighbours," says Neeta Anand, who is with
the residents' welfare association of Delhi's posh Defence Colony. "I keep hearing of disputes all the time. There was one, two days ago."Rajeev
Kakaria of the residents' welfare association of upmarket Greater Kailash-I, says, "I hear of a parking row once every three days or so
An assistant commissioner of police describes how his sister complained about the rear-view mirror of her car being broken thrice in a week due to
bad parking arrangements "She was parking her car in front of a neighbour's house. I told her the neighbour was doing this deliberately, and that
she should go have a word with him." It is very difficult to estimate the extent of the problem in residential areas. Most of such cases do not reach
police stations, and the ones that do are categorised not as parking disputes, but as disputes among neighbours. The assistant commissioner says it
is quite common for neighbours to approach the local police with complaints against each other. "Typically, these have to do with three issues
parking space; use of the common terrace; and sharing of water," says another Delhi Police officer. All three are common resources, which points to
a tension between private needs and public regulation.
Private v public
The automobile boom is taking away big swathes of public space leading to dangerous, if unforeseen, consequences. "Our larger rescue vehicles get
stuck all the time because of excessive on-street parking," complains Delhi's chief fire officer R C Sharma. "Forget about our vehicles getting the
right of way, people park their vehicles illegally on our premises, sometimes obstructing vehicles trying to get out of the fire station." Rohit Baluja of
the Institute of Road Traffic Education, an ngo
in Delhi, says the time has come for the city to consider how many civic
amenities it is willing to forgo for the sake of private vehicles "Walking is an essential activity, but Indian cities are remarkable in their insensitivity
to pedestrians. Cars control our roads, public spaces and imagination." He gives an example "When schools are given land, one of the conditions is
that they will manage their parking inside the school. But go to any major school, and you will find vehicles parked all over the roads outside. It is a
hazard to school children."
K T Ravindran, dean of studies at the School of Planning and Architecture, says we have forgotten that our cities were never built for such large
numbers of private vehicles "People say it is economic growth. This kind of growth is cancerous, and its effects will show slowly." P K Sarkar, professor and head of transport planning at
the school, has found himself in heated arguments with his neighbours in south Delhi's Chittaranjan Park over badly parked vehicles "Flats are rapidly
coming up on what were once single-occupancy houses. Easy car loans and a booming economy mean each household can afford more than one
car. But these localities just can't take this kind of vehicular pressure."Transport professors acknowledge that the car boom has brought about a
sociological change that has not been studied.
Ravi Sundaram, fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, says there is a big subsidy for private life in Indian cities at the
cost of public life, whether it concerns road space, water or electricity. "Private vehicles need broader roads, so slum settlements are bulldozed
without compensation. But there is no talk of removing cars that encroach on public space. At the most they get a fine," he points out.
"There are known intersections in Delhi where pedestrians and cyclists get killed regularly by cars, yet nobody talks about these. But it is not just
Delhi. The entire urban discourse in India is about fulfilment of private life. It is controlled by a non-voting class of people who don't participate in
the city's politics, and drive in air-conditioned cars that provide them a mobile and secure private space." The violence brought about by the
automobile boom is present all over, but never discussed. Sundaram says Delhi has faced disasters, but what it is facing now is its first urban crisis,
which began in the early 1990s with the rapid expansion of the city, fuelled by easy credit for housing and vehicles.
Qamar Ahmed, Delhi Police's joint commissioner in charge of traffic, has the unenviable task of managing the city's traffic. "On-street parking is one
of the main reasons for congestion on our roads. People want to park anywhere they can. When the traffic police tow away their vehicles, they
complain there wasn't any 'no parking' sign. They ask me 'Where do we park?' I say I don't know; it's not my duty to provide you parking," he says,
adding, people don't realise that parking is not a right; it is a privilege. It is not the government's job to provide parking, Ahmed stresses. "It is
critical that the public transport in this city is improved. Otherwise, there is no way to provide the kind of parking that the city demands." On-road
parking is one of the biggest reasons for congestion, he says.
Ahmed knows of the numerous rows among neighbours over parking of vehicles in residential areas "The onus of parking rests on automobile buyers.
People must be asked to prove they have space to park their vehicle in their house before their vehicles are registered."
Squatters on wheels
Cars are major encroachers on public land. Parking gets huge hidden subsidies
A typical vehicle stays parked 95 per cent of the time. A 2006 study by the Central Road Research Institute in New Delhi estimated that of the
8,760 hours in a year, an average car's steering time is only 400 hours. This means it is driven for only about an hour a day. Yet parking is not
factored into the infrastructure requirements of automobiles--only roads and flyovers are considered infrastructure. Since parking is never a major
consideration of urban planning in India, its land requirement is never planned.
This puts an enormous pressure on scarce urban land. Most vehicles in Indian cities are privately owned, and they are mostly parked on public land,
be it on the roadside or in commercial parking lots. What is the amount of land required and what is its cost? This has hardly been studied in the
context of existing conditions in Indian cities, but there are estimates.
Transport regulators calculate the amount of land required to park a car at an average of 23 sq m, which includes the space occupied by the vehicle
as well as the minimum space needed to move it into and out of the space. This is called equivalent car space, or ecs
A typical two-wheeler requires 0.16 sq m of ecs
So how much land do cars take up in Delhi? Assuming that one car uses one parking space--which is a gross underestimation as a car is parked at
several locations in a day--parked cars are already occupying about 3 per cent of Delhi's geographical area. This would go up to 9-10 per cent if we
assume that each car needs an average of three different parking slots.
Given the number of registered personal vehicles in Delhi, more than 45 million sq m of land is needed for parking. And the demand is growing each
day. On the basis of the 2005-06 figure of 308 new cars registered a day, the additional land required for parking each year is 2.5 million sq
m--roughly equivalent to 310 international football fields. Delhi doesn't have the land to park so many vehicles.
In August 2005, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi brought in a one-time charge of Rs 4,000 on all new cars being registered in Delhi as a "misuse" of
parking charge--commercial vehicles have to pay this amount every year. Considering that the duration of a private car's registration is 15 years,
this amounts to a charge of Rs 22 per month--or Re 0.74 per day or Re 0.03 per hour. Since most commercial parking lots in Delhi charge Rs 10 for
12 hours, a vehicle can be left there for a monthly charge of Rs 600.
But what are market rents like? In Delhi's posh Greater Kailash locality, the rent for 23 sq m in a residential area works out to Rs 6,900 per month,
given the rent of a ground floor house. In the same locality, the rent for a commercial space of 23 sq m works out to above Rs 25,000 per month. In
Connaught Place, the same amount of commercial space could cost a rent of above Rs 36,000 per month.
So, cars get a humongous hidden subsidy in the form of cheap parking land. It is this subsidy that allows more and more people to buy more and
Parking creates extremely inequitous uses of land. While a car is entitled to 23 sq m of public land, a very poor family gets a plot of about 18 sq m
under a Delhi government scheme. The government's low-cost housing scheme offers plots of 32 sq m. The amount of land consumed for parking the
number of private vehicles registered each day in 2005-06 would provide enough land for 600 low-cost houses a day.
Delhi, in other words, allots more public land for parking cars than it does to house its poor.And all this for only 30 per cent of city's population
which have a family car, based on figures of the National Council for Applied Economic Research.
Parking in residential areas is not managed at all and is left to the vagaries and negotiating skills of individual car owners. Paid parking in commercial
areas is managed by three civic bodies in Delhi the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (mcd
, which is supposed to serve
about 94 per cent of Delhi's land), the New Delhi Municipal Council (ndmc
, which serves 3 per cent of the land), and the
Delhi Development Authority (dda,
the agency that sets building norms and also controls some land). These agencies
give out contracts for parking lots for two to three years for a fixed amount based on the site's commercial potential; the contractors appoint their
'staff', who collect the fee. The profit or loss is borne by the contractor.
The civic agencies say available space is not enough to meet the rising parking demand. Since surface area cannot be expanded, they propose to
create structured multilevel parking lots mcd
has proposed 19, ndmc
three, and dda
five. The thrust has also come from court orders, which in December 2004 directed the civic bodies to identify at least 100 sites to build multilevel parking.
The Delhi government has recently approved 16 'hi-tech' multilevel lots. But the economics of multilevel parking is poorly understood in India, where
vehicle owners are used to paying a ridiculously low fee.
Delhi's parking plans will further subsidise private cars -- and increase congestion
The current understanding of multilevel parking is quite poor. Typically, the cost of structured parking accounts for construction, operation and maintenance, and transaction costs. Land is leased from civic bodies, so its true cost is discounted. The more automated the parking system, the greater its cost. Detailed costing of parking structures being planned for Delhi are not available. But the civic bodies that have planned them do not expect these to be profitable at the current parking fees, or even with the minimum hike planned.
has provided some costs for its planned structured parking. The capital cost of multilevel parking is Rs 4 lakh per
car parking space. mcd
estimates show this can increase to Rs 9 lakh each.The business model they propose provides
for diverting 25-30 per cent of the space for commercial activities to keep the venture profitable--because in this model, only 22 per cent of the
capital cost can be recovered from parking charges of Rs 10 per hour. If the full capital cost were to be recovered through parking, hourly parking
rate would go up to Rs 30-39. The existing rate is Rs 10 per 12 hours.
Will park, won't pay
All feasibility studies conducted for the proposed multilevel parking show very low willingness to pay among car users in Delhi, which has the highest
per capita income in the country. A survey at mcd
's parking site at Parade Ground in Old Delhi showed that 50 per cent
of the car users interviewed were willing to pay only Rs 10 for using a multilevel parking. Only 30 per cent were ready to pay Rs 15 for unlimited
time. When respondents were asked about paying on an hourly basis, only 28 per cent was willing to pay equal to or more than Rs 10. Ninety-three
per cent of the car users want to use the proposed fully automated multilevel parking lot at Ramlila Ground. When asked about fees, 61 per cent
were willing to pay only Rs 5; about 26 per cent were willing to pay Rs 10; 3 per cent went up to Rs 15; and only 10 per cent were ready to pay Rs 20.
The experience of multilevel parking lots in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata actually shows how the business model is struggling. Delhi's commercial centre
Nehru Place has a seven-storey parking complex owned by a private operator. Only two floors, with a combined daily capacity of 228 cars, are
functioning. When Down To Earth
visited the lot, only nine vehicles were parked there.
The main reason, perhaps, is the cost, which was earlier Rs 30 for one hour, increasing through the slabs to Rs 120 for eight hours. This was
subsequently reduced to Rs 20 for one hour, increasing to Rs 100 for six to 10 hours. Even though surface parking in the vicinity was curtailed, the
multilevel parking remains grossly underutilised, not making any impact on congestion in the area.
At the same time, parking attendants of the surface parking lots of Nehru Place are remarkably efficient at utilising limited space. In a space that
would take 3,785 cars, they accommodate a peak of 5,861 cars.
Mumbai has a multilevel lot at Nariman Point. The Mumbai Environmental Social Network, a civil society group, studied its impact. It found that
before the lot came up, there was 100 per cent utilisation of the available 140 parking slots. After the lot came up on the same plot, the capacity
increased to 540 cars but utilisation dropped to only 10 per cent. Reason cheaper on-street parking in the vicinity, which charges Rs 5 per hour and
Rs 3 for every additional hour, while the multilevel parking charges Rs 5 for every 30 minutes.
Kolkata has perhaps the highest surface parking rate of Rs 7 per hour, and the parking attendants are known to charge higher than the standard
rate after the first hour, making haggling with parking attendants a part of the car user's routine. The city has one multilevel parking at Rawdon
Street (another is just coming up at Lindsay Street). It has three floors that can park 200 cars, and charges Rs 15 per hour but a concessional Rs
75 for eight hours. Simpark Infrastructure, the parking operator, says about 110 slots are always occupied, mostly by office-going users who pay
monthly. It also says that on an average, there are about 160-180 cars using the lot on an hourly basis. While these are just the claims of the
operator needing independent verification, it seems plausible that the greater occupancy in the multilevel parking lot has to do with relatively high
rates of surface parking in the city--especially when seen against the large difference between surface parking rates and multilevel parking rates in
Delhi and Mumbai.
Any parking policy for Indian cities must study these examples in detail. It must also recognise something that is obvious from a review of parking
literature from across the world that parking demand is infinite, and no amount of supply can meet it.
Restrict cars, not mobility
Missing this critical insight, the parking debate in India is all about how to meet an increasing demand. It completely ignores the worldwide trend of
using high parking fees to deter the use of cars in cities, thereby relieving city roads of congestion and lowering air pollution from vehicular
emissions. Mobility needs are then met by improving public transport. Cities across the world are finding increasingly new ways to price out parking
of cars (see box Clamping wheels
Multilevel parking in Delhi and other cities must be debated thoroughly. Does it make sense to promote cheap parking, cross-subsidised by rent from
commercial development, in a city which has too many cars? Wouldn't Delhi be better off if the Rs 1,460 crore which is proposed to be spent on
multilevel parking was invested in improving public transport? Wouldn't cash-strapped civic bodies across the country have more money for public
amenities if they recovered parking charges based on differential rates determined by commercial importance of a site? Parking rates also need to be
varied during the day in accordance with peak demand, because experience from across the world shows this influences commuter choice. Indian
cities will have to choose between cars and mobility.