Interview: “People buy cars in Mumbai because they don’t have to think about the cost of parking”

Parking facilities in Mumbai need a regulatory body in place. Photo: Gopal MS, Mumbai

Mumbai is the most stressful city to drive in the world, according to a study by Hiyacar, a UK-based car-sharing company. It is also ranked 5th for global car congestion by the 2021 TomTom Traffic Index, a global traffic index. Unsurprisingly, traffic jams, road rage incidents and the stress of long commutes affects the physical and mental health of drivers.

Additionally, the condition of the city’s roads, which are poorly constructed, riddled with potholes and unsecured partitions, has led to a 15% increase in traffic accidents in the first six months of 2021. fatalities due to accidents increased by 22% during the same period compared to the previous year.

The barriers to car ownership

According to the State Economic Survey Report 2019-2020, Mumbai’s vehicle density of 1900/km is 15 times higher than the 123/km in the rest of the state combined. The number of cars per capita is increasing by about 10% every year, while the length of roads has remained almost the same. In December, 2021 statistics from the state Department of Transportation showed a 47% increase in private vehicle registrations from the previous year. The result is less space for parking, parks and other recreational facilities.

mask marshall in south bombay fining people for not wearing a mask
Congestion also leads to increases in rickshaw and taxi fares, making it even an unaffordable mode of transport. Photo: Gopal MS, Mumbai

Trupti Amritwar Vaitla, Managing Director of Mumbai Environment and Social Network, an NGO working for sustainable mobility in Mumbai, is an architect and urban planner and is currently associated with various research projects related to public spaces and transport issues in Mumbai. In this interview with Citizen Matters, she answers questions about the increase in the number of cars in Mumbai and possible solutions to manage this growing crisis. Excerpts from the interview.

Some citizens I have spoken to find cars more comfortable and convenient than public transport, despite the costs. But, given the city’s congestion and travel problems, what alternative do they have?

It is not just a status symbol but an aspiration for many. A majority of the city still lives in slums and income disparity is widening. The invention of the car is only 120 years old. Considering its technological advancements, modern cars are expected to be more expensive in India today. But through mass production, we were able to make car ownership more affordable and accessible to the masses.

Land is limited in a city like Mumbai, and an expensive resource. Each vehicle purchased requires a space to move and park.

Unfortunately, instead of prioritizing the management of on-street parking, the preference is to encourage multi-tiered off-street parking facilities by funding or subsidizing public parking for private vehicles. This is not in line with parking demand management and sustainable mobility principles.

Most don’t recognize the obvious shortcomings of a private car, which takes up 500 square feet of road space to drive. The need for space increases with the speed of the car. Even when stationary, it requires 150 to 200 square feet of space. For each vehicle purchased, a minimum of three spaces are required for parking. There is a need to create awareness regarding the issue of space in Mumbai.

We will have to find a balance between owning a private vehicle and public transport such as buses, trains, shared taxis, cars and bicycles. But in the current absence of this balance, we could witness a complete stoppage of mobility for all vehicles, due to traffic jams and parking. It’s a vicious circle.

What is the solution here?

Private vehicles are growing at a rate of 10% per year. But the need for parking spaces will increase by three times the growth rate of cars, or 30% per year, which will create a major crisis situation for parking, ultimately leading to more congestion than we are currently seeing.

The idea that parking is a free infrastructure to be provided by the state is where the problem lies.

Read more: Is Mumbai one step closer to solving its parking crisis?

The provision of multi-level off-street parking facilities receives the most funding and is hailed as an ideal, effortless solution to on-street parking management.

The cost of a multi-level car park does not include the cost of the land, which will inevitably be higher than the construction cost. To recover even construction costs, public and private bodies must work together to optimize the cost of land and construction. Very high parking fees will therefore have to be charged to recoup this cost in three to five years.

Will citizens pay such high parking fees?

People buy cars because they don’t have to think about the cost of parking. It is only when they understand the market value of the parking space that they will become discouraged. There is a need to manage on-street parking with price-regulated parking, as it is the most effective demand management strategy to control the rapid growth of private vehicles.

We need to realize that increasing parking supply is a magnet for more vehicles. Abundant parking supply leads to greater parking demand and the vicious cycle of supply and demand continues, which has a negative impact on sustainable mobility.

We can certainly take inspiration from other cities and countries, but we cannot blindly copy them. We have our unique challenges when it comes to density, ambiguity of land ownership, income disparity, informality and much more.

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