In a city of easy entitlements, the right to park outside one’s home for free is perhaps the most ubiquitous in Delhi.
Even though roads and roadsides are public space also meant for pedestrians, cyclists and other lesser commuters, Delhi’s car owners seem to own all of it. For a meagre one-time parking fee and road tax, our cars — whether parked or in motion — hog Delhi’s road space.
In December last year, the Delhi government withdrew the order to increase the parking fee by up to 19 times from the present Rs 2,000-4,000, on the grounds of administrative discrepancies and that the hike did not apply to all municipal zones.
But the enhanced amount of Rs 6,000-75,000 (depending on the cost of the car) was also too little for a lifetime of free parking.
One-time parking fees, experts say, should at least partially recover the cost of the land used for parking a car during its lifetime. In the more competitive market of the National Capital Region, private builders charge as much as Rs 2-3 lakh for an additional parking space.
Last year, the draft parking policy — a first for Delhi — recommended a fee for using public land for parking a car in a residential neighbourhood. It recommended that the municipalities, in consultation with resident welfare associations, would draw up area parking plan, demarcate on-street parking and determine the parking fee. Residents who had built stilt-parking on their ground floors and still parked on public land were to be charged twice the amount.
The civic agencies were asked to develop parking lots in open grounds (other than parks) and run shuttle service, charges for which were to be included in the fee. The policy asked for regular enforcement to tow-away illegally parked cars and leave a lane clear for the movement of emergency vehicles.
While clearing the rest of the policy two weeks ago, Delhi transport minister Kailash Gahlot removed the clause on parking charges in residential neighbourhoods, saying that managing the scheme would overburden the civic agencies, and “the money collected in such colonies would go unspent”.
The management work, however, could have been easily outsourced, which in fact was a suggestion in the policy. The minister also found the provision of the residential parking charge “unjustified because despite paying a fee, there would be no guarantee that cars would be safe.” But then, the proposed fee was supposed to be rent for public space and not for safekeeping of parked cars.
While backing out to avoid imaginary liabilities makes little sense, what probably made the authorities rethink is the apparent futility of trying to tax a mass practice. But even though Delhi has more car users than any other Indian city, the majority of the capital’s residents take public transport, cycles and simply walks to commute.
Since the city’s road space is dominated by the private vehicle fleet, investing funds raised through residential parking fees in public road infrastructure, particularly to boost walkability and facilitate cycling, could restore some parity. There are lessons from Mexico City, which suffers from similar levels of congestion and air pollution as Delhi.
Until 2012, when Mexico City started installing meters called EcoParq to charge fees for on-street parking, parking in certain neighbourhoods was either free or informally controlled by unregulated valet attendants. According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, in the first year, 30% of EcoParq revenue was reinvested in the same neighbourhoods for building sidewalks, installing streetlights etc.
But authorities soon realised that no matter how much parking they provide, it will never be enough, because people keep buying cars. So in 2017, Mexico City scrapped its minimum parking regulation. Today, anyone building more than 50% of the maximum allowable parking spaces, must pay a fee, which authorities have promised to use for improving public transit and subsidising housing, reported Quartz.
While car owners should pay for using public space for parking, such a fee in itself may not deter multiple car ownership, which has for long been common in Delhi. There are strict rules practised by cities such as Singapore and Beijing to deter even first-time car purchasers. Delhi can at least consider incrementally taxing the owners for their second cars onward.
It is anybody’s guess how far the air quality and road congestion must deteriorate before the authorities muster the political will to take those drastic, decisive steps long overdue. But the least they can do is to set the ball rolling in the right direction by challenging Delhi’s free parking culture.