With the increasing number of private motor vehicles in Chennai, the need for a comprehensive parking management strategy is being felt acutely. Despite initiatives like multilevel parking facilities being taken up by the government, the public continues to park their vehicles on the streets or on pavements, causing multiple problems. With an intention to find answers to this long-term problem in Chennai, Citizen Matters organised a webinar titled ‘Finding a solution to street parking in Chennai’, bringing together a panel of experts for the discussion.
The panel comprised Sanjay Pinto, Advocate, Columnist, Author and former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7; Aswathy Dilip, Managing Director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) India; David Bharat Kumar, event planner, journalist and Tamil Nadu Police Traffic Warden; Kannan Balachandran, Secretary of T Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association and Raj Cherubal, Chief Executive Officer, Chennai Smart City Limited.
Woes of residents due to unregulated street parking in Chennai
Kannan pointed out that when residential areas are converted into commercial zones, the pedestrian pathways are occupied by hawkers and their vehicles, leaving no space for pedestrians. “In the next few years, these hawkers might also switch to cars which will further lead to parking issues in Chennai streets,” he said.
“Areas like T Nagar already have a chaotic parking management system. Since every other vehicle has a sticker of police or advocate, the residents have not been able to question the violators in case of haphazard parking,” he added.
“When I go to the court I make sure that I leave home at least half an hour before the time I am supposed to reach, just so I could get a proper parking slot. Similarly, when I go to pick up my kids from school, I leave at least 45 minutes before the pickup time because most schools have thousands of students but do not have parking facilities,” said Sanjay.
He pointed out that shopkeepers across the city consider the pavement around their shops to be their personal space and have the practice of parking their vehicles on the pavement.
Parking a complex issue to solve
Raj pointed out that parking management is a more complex issue which has its roots in systemic problems.
“Multiple agencies with multiple jurisdictions are involved and unless we solve each and every one of those problems, it is hard to arrive at a feasible solution,” he said, adding that the countries that have a good parking management system have fantastic public transport system with very few cars on the road. Very importantly, the local government has complete control over the city and can frame rules to keep parking in check.
Aswathy noted that street parking is a common problem across cities, and said that it is a very difficult problem to solve, but not impossible. What adds to the issue is the involvement of different departments and the multiple rules that were set many years ago when this issue was not as drastic as it is right now. Chennai has however taken its first step towards the solution, she said.
“Even if stringent action is taken and the vehicles parked on the roadside are seized, there is no sufficient place for these vehicles to be accommodated. There is also a dearth in the number of towing vehicles with the police department,” said David.
Aswathy observed that the traffic police are understaffed to bring in the necessary enforcement and parking is not their highest priority as they have Law and Order issues to look into. When the civic body brings in the service provider to enforce parking, the Motor Vehicle Act does not give them the full power that is required for them to enforce parking regulations.
“In a bid to address the space constraint to accommodate the seized vehicles, it was planned to tow the vehicle and park it in the nearest parking spot available but charge the violator multiple times parking fees. However, there were practical challenges that led to issues like damage to a high-end car during towing. Since these car owners are more likely to have powerful connections, it was challenging to the service providers and sometimes even the officials,” she explained.
Citing an example of an attempt to create a local solution, David said, “In a bid to solve street parking issues in Shanthi Colony in Anna Nagar, the local police once found an open ground and had a meeting with the shopkeepers in the area. The shopkeepers were requested to share the rent for the ground and their customers could use the purchase bills to get parking discounts. However, the shopkeepers were not willing to foot the rental cost.”
Need for behavioural change
As a solution to street parking in Chennai, multilevel parking facilities have been established. David said that a change in individual mentality is required for multilevel parking and other such solutions to become a success. “For instance, anyone who wants to buy something in a shop would prefer to park the vehicle right in front of the shop so that they can leave immediately after buying the product. They do not have the patience to park their vehicle at one place and take a short walk to the shops,” he said.
When we were working on the Pedestrian Plaza in Pondy Bazaar the shopkeepers were against the transformation without the creation of a multi-level car parking facility, said Aswathy.
“However, even at that particular point, we knew from the experience of multi-level car parks in cities like Bangalore which had about 11 multi-level car parks where the occupancy was less than 20% to 30%, that this would not really solve the problem because unless and until you have a high level of enforcement no one is going to park their vehicles at the multilevel parking facility,” said Aswathy.
Raj added, “For example, if I am running a multilevel parking facility and if I do not have control over the 500 meters radius, people will eventually park their cars wherever they want to. It could be free of cost in front of somebody’s house or at a place where the parking charges are much lesser than my facility. Thus it becomes a systemic problem.”
Some suggestions to ease street parking issues in Chennai
As part of the discussion on the solutions to street parking, the panel came up with the following ideas
- Carpooling for school children from the same area going to the same school
- A mechanism at the regional transport office to mandate vehicle owners to come with parking facilities at the time of registration when they have more than one vehicle
- Discussion between resident welfare associations and the government agencies like CMDA to come up with clear rules for parking in residential areas.
- Ensure all schools have adequate parking facilities on campus
- Popularising Road Safety Patrol in schools and making use of the cadets to enforce parking
- Get the next generation to walk, cycle and use public transport than using their own vehicles
- Bring in a differential pricing system for parking to disincentivise haphazard parking
To follow the complete discussion: