Park here at your own peril

A  Vasant Kunj resident had a harrowing time in October when his seven-year-old child was admitted to hospital for dengue. 

He blames a junked vehicle that has been parked outside his house for months for his son's illness. “The jeep had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes as the rainwater gets collected in it. It belongs to my neighbour and has been parked here for over a year now,” he says, requesting anonymity. 

At the core of this story lies the issue of parking.

Now, he is making the rounds of the civic agency’s office to get the jeep removed. “We have asked my neighbour a million times to park it somewhere else, but they refuse to budge as they don’t want to let go of the parking space,” he adds. 

The health officials don’t dare take any action as his neighbour is none other than a councillor from Najafgarh zone under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, he alleges. 

Shrinking parking space in the city because of  an increasing number of vehicles is forcing people to ‘reserve’ spots in their locality or near their workplace, even at the cost of causing inconvenience to others. 

When Deccan Herald spoke to the councillor on phone, she hung up saying, “It’s a false allegation.” A coiuple of attempts later, she took the call. 

“The jeep you are talking about is neither registered in my name nor in my husband’s name. But we do have a jeep in a different colour. The residents have mistaken our jeep with the other one,” she says. 

Finding parking space has become a daily struggle for the residents across the national capital. 

“I have to park my vehicle at least a kilometre away from my house. It’s very difficult to find a parking area in my locality,” says Surjit Singh, a Rajender Nagar resident. There are sometimes problems even when you have slot. An elderly couple in Mayur Vihar are harassed by neighbours as they don't allow allow parking in front of their ground floor house. 

“When we didn’t allow our first floor neighbour to park his car in front of our house, he started troubling us. Every day he throws kitchen waste in our backyard,” says 84-year-old Kamla Devi. “They also honk the horn outside our home late at night. Whom should we turn to for help?” she adds. 

Their neighbour says he wants to buy a new car but lack of parking space is a big deterrent. “Aunty and uncle are being adamant about not allowing us to park our SUV in front of their house. We want to utilise our current space for parking the new car,” the neighbour says. Few years ago, his car was stolen when he had parked it at a distance from his home, he adds. 

Sensing a business opportunity here, some have started renting out parking space in front of their houses to earn a few extra bucks. 

“I give Rs 300 per month to a house owner in another lane to park my vehicle there,” says Anju Puri, a Malviya Nagar resident. 

To manage the residential parking issues, the unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi had passed a law that no building plan for a plot of land between 100 and up to 1,000 sq metres will be sanctioned if it doesn’t have provision for ‘stilt parking’. 

That usually means leaving the ground floor of the plot entirely for parking. 

The municipal corporations could do only this much as they were never interested in dealing with the residential parking woes in depth.

Commercial parking

“We are more concerned to deal with the issues emerging due to the commercial parking lots. We don’t want to get into residential parking problems as we don’t have the wherewithal to do so,” says South Corporation’s Commissioner Manish Gupta. “We don’t want to bite more than we can chew.” 

But even the commercial parking situation is bad. The three municipal corporations together have only five or six contractors who operate parking facilities across Delhi. “We have a shortage of contractors in the city. They say they will only operate parking lots if the rates are increased,” says Gupta. 

According to a senior South Corporation official, the Deputy Commissioner (Parking) had a meeting with the parking contractors in 2013. 

“Contractors who aren’t registered with the civic agency had said that the official parking rates are too low. They would incur losses if they take up the permit.” In February 2014, the south civic agency floated parking tenders for over 40 sites. 

“For 21 sites the corporation didn’t receive any bidder. So we are left with only
 around five contractors who keep applying again and again,” the official adds. The South Corporation has a total of 80 authorised parking sites in its area. Officials across the corporations say that they can’t afford to lose out on these limited contractors. 

“These contractors flout rules with impunity knowing that there is nobody except them,” says the official. 

The contractors operate as a parking mafia and overcharge vehicle owners without the fear of getting caught.  The East Delhi Municipal Corporation has 36 authorised parking sites. “Outside Karkardooma court a contractor is running an illegal parking lot,” says an East Corporation official. 

Asked if the dearth of contractors is the reason the civic agency cannot crack down on illegal parking lots, the official says, “The civic agencies do take action against them and terminate their contracts but when they reopen the tenders these very same contractors apply again.” 

A North Delhi Municipal Corporation official says that cancelling a contract doesn’t serve any purpose.

“According to law if a contractor’s permit has been taken away, the parking site is declared as free parking zone until the new contractor is engaged. But in reality the contractor continues to run the facility. He just stops paying money to the corporation,” he adds. “So the civic agency loses out on a source of revenue.” 

Due to the helplessness of the municipal corporations, people get fleeced.“Whenever I park my vehicle at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, the parking attendant charges Rs 20, but gives a slip with Rs 10 written on it,” says Karan Shukla, a private firm employee who works at ITO. “These parking sites should have a board displaying parking rates for four and two-wheeler vehicles,” he adds.

Way forward 

According to experts, discouraging people from using private vehicles is the only solution to the parking mess. 

A senior official with South Corporation says that in some countries the government keeps the parking rates so high that people are bound to travel by public transport. “I went to Paris for city planning training. There my friend used to visit me from Switzerland. He used to come to Paris by his private car. After reaching Paris he would park his car at the embassy. He couldn’t afford to travel in Paris by his vehicle because the parking charges were as high as 50 euros,” the official adds.  Also, the lanes for private vehicles have been reduced in Paris, he says. “On some stretches there used be four lanes in total. Now the government there has made two lanes for private vehicles, one lane for public transport buses and one for cyclists and pedestrians,” he adds. 

“This way travelling by private vehicles takes more time than public transport and discourages people to commute by their cars.” 

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor from Pushp Vihar to Lodhi Road was based on this logic. 

“Such experiments should be encouraged,” says Gupta. “The corridor selection for the pilot project was wrong. Maybe we chose the toughest route first so it saw such huge resistance from different quarters. Had it started on a little less busy stretch, the story would have been different,” adds Gupta. 

But the public transport network is inadequate, people feel.

“Unless the Delhi government improves the public transport network to cater to the increase in the number of commuters, the public won’t rely on it. Some serious thought needs to be put into providing last-mile connectivity, more buses, disciplining unruly autorickshaw drivers,” said Ayan Dasgupta, a south Delhi resident. 

A North Corporation official suggests point-to-point cabs, popularly known as kali-peeli (black and yellow) cabs, should be encouraged as public transport to discourage people from commuting by their own vehicles. 

Experts say studies suggest that a private car is on the road between 30 minutes and an hour a day: rest of the time it remains parked. But point-to-point taxis are on the move for over 6 hours a day.

“The numbers of such cabs should be increased. Arrangement of proper parking facilities for them and reduction of their licence fee can be positive steps to promote these taxis as public transport vehicles,” says Gupta. In countries like Singapore such cabs are allowed to shuttle passengers on the public transport lane, he adds. 

Delhi faces traffic congestion, parking problems, and a spurt in accidents and road rage cases. Perhaps it's time the administration summons the political will to start charging high parking rates, increase tax on purchase of cars and confine private vehicles to fewer lanes on roads. 

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