Politicise public mobility to save Delhi

Highlighting the traffic mayhem that Delhi finds itself in is now almost daily fare in the print media. A multiplicity of reasons are cited which include bad road design, encroachments and an absence of law enforcement. That the motor vehicles act is a weak piece of legislation is of no help.

Recently the Minister for road transport has suggested that incentives be given to people for scrapping old vehicles. This is done in many other countries, with the difference that the flip side of such schemes is also enforced. In Delhi incentives for scrapping is likely to spawn a business in acquiring a scrapping certificate while actually selling the car. This will make everybody, except the environment happy.

In this piece I would like to draw the reader’s attention to a largely ignored facet of car use and some possible solutions which will be equitable as compared to incentives alone

The occupation of footpaths and public spaces in Delhi by cars parked illegally has many ramifications. Most of them go unnoticed. The right to park in public places is perceived as a natural consequence stemming from the desire to own a car. This idea would have lead to disastrous repercussions if it were extended to owning and building houses.

The occupation of public spaces by vehicles has damaged the city in ways that we do not even consider. This is in my view an important reason why Delhi will never ever be a world class city till this scourge is addressed and dealt with.

The much maligned urban poor living in unauthorized colonies have paid for land and construction. They pay for water and electricity. And they pay heavily for all these facilities. The slum dweller accused of occupying or squatting on land pays for services such as water, electricity and has to shell out money in one way or the other for occupying this piece of land

The self righteous car owner on the other hand, for a paltry sum called night parking charges during vehicle registration, virtually acquires the right to park on any public space, and stake claim and ownership. Added to this, the cleaning, lighting and maintenance of this public space also come free of cost for the car owner.

In the absence of any regulation or restriction, on usage of public space for parking, it is only competitive brawn that decides how much, of which the driver does not own, can be occupied for his potential use.

But there are other problems that escape us. The fact is that car manufacturers can profit from selling their products in a city where there is no cost of storing them.

Consumers consider stocking charges before they buy foodstuff for example refrigeration cost and the square foot cost of placing it.

On the other hand cars can be parked free of cost on land that belongs to the public. This public land could be a footpath or parts of a motorized carriageway. Parks within some residential areas have been occupied for parking cars. There is a massive and excessive subsidy being provided therefore to car buyers.

To state an example, as per MPD 2021 standards, a car may occupy about 23 sq meters (about 250sq.ft.) of land when parked at its home base. This would include the actual parking space and a part of the driveway space. A similar amount of space would be occupied at its destination like the office. So the car effectively occupies or needs about 46sq.metres or about 500sq.ft of space, to be useful.

Assuming the approx. cost of land in South Delhi at a conservative 6 lakhs per square meter, this would mean a cost of about 276 lakhs (2.76 crore). This is provided either free or at nominal charges like Rs.20 for eight hours of parking.

Similarly three bedroom ground floor flat in a south Delhi DDA SFS flat may occupy about 1500 sq.ft. Two such flats with a common staircase of 200sq.ft area between them may occupy about 3200 sq.ft.

If the blocks have ground plus three floors of flats, that would be 8 flats on a ground footprint area of 3200 sq.ft. (about 300 sq.metres). If the cost of this land is taken at Rs. 6 lakhs per square meter, then the cost of this would be about 18 crores, or a share per flat of about 2.25crores per flat.

If each flat has two cars, which they usually do, the value of the land occupied by these cars would be 5.5crores per flat. So a flat which occupies a ground area of value of approx. 2.25crores, is given land worth almost 2.5 times its cost for keeping the cars!

Car owners occupy thousands of Crores worth of footpath & sidewalk to park cars in Delhi. That too, land that has been freely usurped, forcing the pedestrian to walk on the motorway risking life and limb.

House owners who have reconstructed their houses (builder flats), have converted the mandatory stilt parking into additional space for other uses and occupied the footpath or carriageway outside their boundaries for parking their cars free of cost

In other areas parks and greens have been invaded and occupied as cars owners nibble at the edges of all boundaries and eat into the periphery slowly swallowing the whole open space

In a recent study by the CSE on an 800 meter stretch of road in Alaknanda, illegally parked cars could generate annual revenue of Rs 1.2 crores annually. So while parking on roads and other open spaces is ostensibly illegal and therefore remains outside the ambit of legitimate state revenue, freely indulging in it is quite the norm.

This unhindered availability of public land, parks and roads for stocking cars free of cost is sufficient reason why the city has failed to bring public transport infrastructure up to speed. 

To assume that all officers within the government do not worry about this state of affairs or damage to the environment will be untrue since they are intelligent enough to realize that a collapsing city and poisonous air is also damaging them and their family’s health

Transport experts and urban planners in Delhi know that the entire cost of retrofitting Delhi’s roads can be recovered through parking charges alone only if the officers in the government so decide.

The report of the High powered committee on how to decongest Delhi states thus:

‘Parking Pricing and Management (PPnM

PPnM is the key measure for travel demand management. The supply of free/ inexpensive parking at the final destination is a key decision factor for people choosing to drive a personal vehicle, rather than taking a bus, Metro, IPT, NMT, walk or carpool. It is suggested that the following pricing strategies be employed to manage and bring down public parking space demand:

But this will not be easy given that our society habitually disregards civic laws unless repeated coercive methods are used. It is not possible for officers, who themselves are product of the same cultural and social norms to enforce a law that requires large scale, consistent policing with a degree of severity that has hitherto never been in practice. Civil society groups too will virulently oppose tough police and law enforcement action

Politicians will obviously not take kindly to recommending any step, regardless of its long term benefit if it appears to annoy the public by asking them to change their habits and this is the reason why parking charges and an enforcement regime is absent in our culture

What is possible is to rely on inducement. Currency, therefore is the only currency in such a situation

We know that the city can only survive with an efficient public transport system (Metro, Buses and Taxis) and pedestrian spaces and we know that car ownership should be discouraged for those who do not own the space to park them

What is possible is to monetize travelling in public transport in favour of its user by recovering it from car parking.

Consider this: Once it is declared that a voter will get credit in cash or redeemable tokens if he uses public transport he will see sufficient inducement to do so. But more than that; it will become imperative for the politicians to ensure that heavy parking charges for cars are levied and collected since their voter has to be paid bonus for travelling in buses or in the metro.

While the details of such a plan can be worked out by economists, by a simple calculation I can tell you that if only cars parked illegally on the Alaknanda road (South Delhi Prime) were to be charged Rs 50/- per day parking charges, the recovery is enough to help 1300 domestic workers travel to and fro in public buses from their home to workplace free of cost. That is about the entire part time domestic help that comes to work in Alaknanda. Considering that the employers do not provide any facilities to domestic workers at their place of work like crèches, clean toilets, and canteens or medical insurance this is perhaps a simple thing to do.

Alternatively it could fund the entire rainwater harvesting in the area or at least 10 solid waste composting plants could be set up or kitchen water recycling units established.

This is not meant to be a long term plan as free public transport based on more and more cars will be self defeating but I am making the assumption that over a period of time the monetary advantage provided to the public transport user will generate a larger demand for it. This may result in creating the politics of public mobility. Public habits (both car owners and otherwise) would change sufficiently, forcing the government to develop a world class mobility infrastructure.

Ashutosh Dikshit August 2015



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