Free parking, a policy no more?

Go with Rasheed Kapan story of Brigade road four wheeler parking in Bengaluru on Wednesday 02nd January 2019. Photo by Janardhan B K

Hopelessly trapped for hours in an endless traffic jam, Akash Rao desperately tried to retain sanity with an elevating thought: This is a massive, open parking lot, offered on a platter, absolutely free. Rao’s escapism is but a stinging reality in Bengaluru, where free, unregulated parking has morphed into a deadly trigger for extreme congestion.

Can a city reeling under the daily onslaught of over 80 lakh vehicles afford this serious lack of a structured, smart and well-designed parking policy? If it obviously cannot, why sit on plans for years before the roads turn irreversibly chaotic?

Thirteen years after it got rid of the old pay-and-park system, the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is at it again. But this time, there is a ‘smart’ tag attached, complete with mobile apps, GPS technology and centralized monitoring.

Centralised monitoring

Simply put, here’s how it will work on 85 select city roads: Sensors installed along these roads transmit information on available parking slots to a monitoring cell. The cell relays this data to motorists through a mobile App. Once the vehicle is parked, the sensor sends a signal to a centralized control room. The motorist pays the fee either through the App or a smart parking meter.

Approved by the State government before the Lok Sabha polls, the new policy might just get a boost if political realignments do not complicate matters again. The Palike has proposed to make available 13,600 parking slots for 3,600 cars and 10,000 two-wheelers, all in Central Business District.

Progressively expensive

Motorists long used to free parking might frown. But if the system kicks in, the parking fee could get progressively more expensive based on which road the vehicle is parked: Roads on A (premium), B (commercial) or C (general) category.

Yet, high parking fee alone will not aid decongestion. The key would be to distance parking slots away from high traffic and convergence points. A new comprehensive parking policy drafted by the Urban Development Department ‘s Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) attempts to do this by banning street-side vehicle parking within 150 metres of shopping malls and bus/railway/Metro stations.

But what about traders, businessmen and residents who park their vehicles for long periods, ranging from a day to weeks and months? The draft Management and Maintenance of Parking Rules, 2018 mandates allocation of off-street parking spaces for them. The fee could be based on monthly passes / permits.

Residential areas

In residential areas across Bengaluru, haphazard parking has added another dimension to an already compromised system. Blatant commercialisation, violation of zonal regulations and ownership of multiple cars and two-wheelers have played havoc with roads in residential areas.

To address this, the policy attempts a middle path: Parking will be allowed in residential areas, but only in demarcated areas on public streets and open spaces. The areas and the parking fee will be identified by the civic agencies in consultation with the Residents Welfare Associations (RWAs).

The Palike’s smart parking system will have to be synced with the new parking policy once it is finally approved after objections. BBMP has sent its comments on the draft policy to the DULT, informs the Palike Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad. But when the entire system starts kicking on the ground is still in the realm of conjecture.

Policy changes

The policy could see a few changes in its final form. Explains a BBMP official, preferring anonymity, “We have not included parking space for autorickshaw stands in urban planning. This causes a lot of traffic nuisance, particularly near junctions. A lot of people still travel in autos and separate auto stands are a must.”

Once a new parking system gets going, the city traffic police will have to be the enforcement agency, the official notes. “There shall not be two agencies undertaking the same task. Also, the fines and amount collected from sale of confiscated vehicles shall be given to BTP to ensure better enforcement.”

A well-established pay and park system was in place in the city before the BBMP abolished it in 2005. Additional Director General of Police, Crime and Technical Services, M A Saleem feels the Palike should not have done that. “There were other ways to deal with the parking mafia,” he recalls.

That hasty decision proved to be an invitation for chaos. Free parking meant anyone could leave their vehicles anywhere even if that meant sparking fresh traffic bottlenecks. “Most of the driving space was taken away for parking. With a new parking system, there will at least be someone to attend to the vehicles. BBMP too could earn revenue,” notes Saleem.

Decongestion strategy

Prohibitively expensive parking fees has been a tried and tested decongestion strategy worldwide. Can this work in Bengaluru? Can car-owners be forced to do a rethink every time they take their vehicle out to the city centre?

“It works in Manhattan, New York City, where people find it cheaper to take the Metro,” says Saleem. But not in Bengaluru, where public transport is not reliable and the Metro network is nowhere near being comprehensive. “The parking fee could be high, but not beyond what is charged on Brigade Road and Commercial Street.”

Beyond fees, a well-planned and smartly designed parking system might just decongest roads for another reason: When a car driver knows exactly where the nearest available parking slot is, he will head straight to that location flashing on a mobile screen. And this would mean no more going around in circles, adding to the traffic.

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