Pictures of the smoke-ridden Indian capital city with its choking pollution levels and roads chock-a-block with vehicles are the stuff of front page news every other day, but now Delhi’s new parking policy approved by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal is expected to jointly address both the congestion and the pollution to some extent.
The Parking Management Area Plan (PMAP), which came into effect in the last week of February, proposes a number of variable charges for residential and commercial areas; these charges are envisioned to impact the demand for parking space in Delhi, and in turn influence the usage of personal vehicles. However, the South Delhi Corporation has decided not to charge fees from residents in the areas under that municipality.
Even so, the plan is shaking up the junta in most parts of the capital. Drawn up by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party, the plan empowers the government to charge residents even to pay for parking in their residential areas. It will charge more during the daytime as well as during peak hours, with rates varying from weekend to weekday slots.
The plan prioritises pedestrians, cyclists, emergency vehicles and buses, over the 9.5 lakh private vehicles in the city, for usage of on-street space. It designates parking space on the streets of residential areas, based on the size of the plot. The plan says, “Beyond a specific number, depending on plot size, there should be additional charges for parking on residential streets for equitable distribution of public spaces.”
Under the New Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, parking on footpaths is a cognisable offence. Moreover, in keeping with a Supreme Court-appointed Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party has enforced differential parking charges and automatically calls for payment of higher charges during the peak hours.
The PMAP also proposes to charge double fees for on-street parking, which would increase exponentially after the first hour. Road tax would go up on an incremental basis for anyone who buys more than one car, while more than two cars would require higher parking fees as well.
The rates are expected to increase even more near markets and other commercial areas, with charges being higher than those levied for on-street parking in residential areas. Multi-level parking (MLP) lots could be more expensive than surface parking.
Why the new plan
The rationale behind the plan is to look for ways to decongest Delhi roads, encouraging drivers to use multi-level parking areas, rather than streets. About 1,400 cars are added to Delhi roads everyday, even as there are barely 250 surface parking lots, along with just a handful of multi-level zones.
The Delhi Maintenance and Management of Parking Rules, 2017, stipulates that surface parking after an hour would no longer be permitted within 500 metres of a multi-level parking lot. This area will be called a ‘no-parking’ zone instead.
Yet, the rules make provisions for any situations that are extraordinary. “In case some essential on-street parking has to be made way for within the 500-metre zone, it will be priced exponentially, at least three times the on-street parking rates,” say the rules. In many areas, while there are a number of vacant multi-level parking lots, some people tend to park their vehicles illegally outside.
Parking will be barred 50 metres from the parking intersections, while vehicles transporting children will get priority for parking during their opening and closing times.
A few residents support the plan. Binita, a home-maker from Mehrauli, says that strict parking rules and charging users are important. This would force people to be more vigilant about following rules in crowded streets and overcrowded roads. “Just tell people to pay for something, and watch them become disciplined,” she says.
Mukund, an IT specialist, points out that private vehicles add to the loud noise and pollution, so it is important to find ways of reducing usage. Parking rules would actually disincentivise people from buying and using more vehicles, and thus help pave the way for more space and less congestion.
However, not all are equally supportive. Neither does everyone appear informed. Rajesh Sharma, a banker in Delhi, was initially surprised at being asked about the plan. Subsequently, talking to more people made him indignant. “That is really not fair,” he says. “Why should I pay parking fees for stationing my vehicle outside my own house?”
House-owners who do not have porches or garages are forced to park outside their homes. As Madhav, a banker, put it, he bought an expensive car but paid all the due taxes and charges. It is not fair now to have to pay for parking it too.
Godbole, a business analyst, is more amused than upset. “The municipality does not have enough staff to enforce the rules,” he quips, “How is it even going to ensure that authorities can roam the streets and colonies and charge people for their parking?”
Before final implementation, the plan had been opened up to suggestions by residents. These were submitted last Friday to the transport commissioner, in order to amend the Draft Delhi Maintenance & Management of Parking Rules 2017. Residents asked officials to draw up a three-year parking roadmap.
Rajiv Kakria, member of GK1 residents welfare association (RWA), told DNA that they are not too sure whether any survey had been done to gauge the “present dwelling unit density per hectare.” He said that it is mandatory to follow it before enforcing the rules. The committee has also not calculated the number of stilts that “have been converted and are being used for purposes other than parking.”
Resident welfare associations have termed the plan “superficial and impractical and harsh”. Having paid a one-time parking fee, they are not clear as to why they should have to continue to dish out more, according to B S Vohra, President of the East Delhi RWA Joint Front, a body representing around a hundred colonies in East Delhi.
Rajiv Kakria, from the GK1 residents welfare association tells India Today that it seems to be a plan that aims at revenue generation, rather than decongestion. Earlier solutions to the parking mess had included measures such as “one time parking cess”, conversion charges under the Master Plan 2021,’ ‘Road Tax’ and the regular parking fee.
However, although citizens have paid under five different heads, and millions of rupees have been collected thus, the lack of accountability or commensurate parking infrastructure over the past decade has thrown the citizens back into a chaotic situation without any solutions. For instance, north MCD is said to have collected Rs 1,180 crore in parking and conversion charges. Yet, it has spent only Rs 130.53 crore to improve the facilities.
Vohra also points out that without proper alternative transport, the plan makes no sense. Given that there is not a sizeable enough bus fleet or alternatives that can absorb the needs of the residents, they have no option but to drive in their private vehicles. Strict parking rules can only be followed when there are corresponding facilities that help to support them.
Experts weigh in
Not even the political fraternity seems to be unanimous on why the plan should be enforced, or what it would achieve. Aam Aadmi Party MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj agrees that the draft parking policy would be an injustice to car owners. As there is no proper building infrastructure, it does not lead to anything sustainable. There should first be enough parking lots for the residents; after that, if the residents continue to park on roads, they can get taxed, he says.
Experts who have conducted extensive research on the subject are quite firm that it should be implemented. “The world over, and in Asian countries like Singapore, there is a hefty price for parking even in residential spaces for both two-wheelers and cars,” S Velumurugan, principal scientist, Central Road and Research Institute, tells DNA. He is convinced that it is the best way to reduce the space crunch in the ever-expanding city.
Centre for Science and Environment too takes a strict viewpoint. Due to shrinking space and expanding demands, there is a lot of stress on cities, so citizens should not be “pampered,” it states clearly, in its report. “The ‘user pays’ principle should govern the pricing of parking. Government should not subsidize this cost,” it clarifies.
The irony is that it being early days still, many residents are not even aware of the rules. “Parking charges? Near my house? What does that mean?” asks Rohini, a puzzled doctor, at Saket. Paying for parking outside her own home, then, is a bitter slap that still awaits delivery.