BBMP’s proposal to begin charging people to park on the streets can seem like a long-overdue scheme. But while the principle of charging for public space seems reasonable, we should do more than that. We should set targets for what we hope to achieve by charging parking fees.
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One direct result will be revenues to the BBMP. Each of the 85 streets on which parking charges will be introduced should produce several lakhs in income to the municipal corporation each month. But are there other results we wish to see? And if yes, can we connect those results too to the scheme that is about to be introduced?
I would like to see four or five things.
(a) Enforcement needs to be stronger. Even today, with proper enforcement of our ‘no parking’ signs, we could dissuade people from using their private vehicles for many trips, and choose public transport instead, or walk their shorter trips. I assume that in the areas where on-street parking will be priced, there will be enforcement too (the tender talks about tow trucks as part of the package). But the focus on enforcement has to be wider, not just on these roads. We should not give up on that goal by introducing a small part of it on a few roads alone.
(b) In many areas, it is not unpaid parking which is the problem, and we should be willing to ban parking altogether. Merely putting a price on parking doesn’t free up road space to more users; it merely allocates it to those who have the capacity to pay. To truly enable a shift to other modes, we have to reduce the availability of parking. This is what all major cities in the world have done. A strategy of increasing parking availability and charging for it has not worked in most places.
(c) The alternatives to the use of private vehicles should be much stronger. We need 6500 more buses in the city, and the program to make footpaths walkable, which is currently being planned for only 55 roads, should be extended to 1500 roads, with at least a few in every ward being included. An entire network of walkable streets should emerge from the program.
(d) Money collected from parking meters should be ploughed into improving public transport and pedestrian facilities. That way, we’ll create a natural link between the costs of using private vehicles and the funds needed to create alternatives to them.
(e) Parking should be thought about in zones or localities, and not merely streets. A cluster of streets together should constitute a zone for parking, and enforcement should be thought about in an integrated way across the zone. The selection of parking spots, and the rights of local residents should be factored in, and a ‘local neighbourhood parking permit scheme’ created to ensure balance between those who live locally and those who visit. Such a program could be administered through the ward committees, with contractors selected by the BBMP.
In the final analysis, the move to price parking is a nudge to think about public spaces more strongly, but alongside getting started we should also be careful to begin moving in the right direction.