Saturday, February 4, 2017

Uberisation of Parking



By Madhu S*

Parking has posed several predicaments that never cease to ease for the Government of India. Government after government has tried to fix the problem using various strategies –building more parking spaces, imposing congestion taxes, investing in parking infrastructure etc. However, they fail because policies fails, as the strategies are neither linked with the outcomes nor do they learn from market models. This may also happen to Venkaiah Naidu, the Minister for Urban Development, if his ministry’s proposal to show proof of parking while buying a new vehicle[1] is implemented. The intention is right and countries like Japan have tasted success. The proposal is neither new to India as the states of Sikkim and Mizoram [2] have already implemented it. The issue here is that the government still assumes ownership and responsibility of providing parking. Citizens are still happy to ask (or demand) for room space to fit their air conditioners. The government need to understand the market system better, if itneeds to tackle (or disown) the parking issue.
Experts like Donald Shoup of the University of California (UCLA) and Paul Barter of the National University of Singapore (NUS) stress the need to treat parking space as a valuable space, which is killed by cars. Should we give free space for a private car or should we use the space for, say, housing for the poor or generating state revenue by leasing prime space or giving employment to a tea seller? The question of priority and productive utilisation of space assumes significance in this context. The National Urban Housing Policy mentions that 25 square metre to 30 square metre of land space is required to provide housing for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in India[3]. On average, a car takes up 25 square-metre space.How do we justify the use of public spaces for car parking? We have to free public spaces from car parking and bring Uber-model innovations to tackle parking or traffic issues.

What to learn from Uber?
Uberisation has become a synonym for effective utilisation with minimum cost. By connecting cars/taxis with people through technology and utilising it, Uber-like systems have brought a new dimension to the concept of space utilisation. This is exactly what we need to learn from them. First, Uber has killed idle time. Cars no longer need to stop dead, as trip volumes increased in relation to decrease in waiting time. Long-term parking is equal to unproductive utilisation of space. Uber-like systems have reduced the need for parking. Something that cities like New Jersey[4] and Colorado adopted when they decided to subsidise Uber than invest in building parking infrastructure. The ‘roundabout time’, a critical issue of cars hovering around in cities to find parking space, will be an issue of the past, if technology could be integrated to identify vacant parking lots. Google Maps help Uber track its customers and ideally, cars should find the vacant spots.
Second, Uber revolutionalised the concept of ride sharing through pooling and incentivising people to share. Majority of the parking spaces are left vacant at some part of the day, which could have been better utilised. Why not ‘legally’convert a parking space for food vending at night? Shared economy benefits have been considered as the future and so need to be seriously considered.
Third, demand pricing for parking is favoured by experts like Paul Barter, as it makes people realise the value of peak time.Recently, the Central Government proposed to limit surge pricing, and the debate is still on whether it is the right strategy. Parking prices in the form of fees should reflect the realities and the real estate value of the land. Dynamic pricing is a good market proposition working well for innovations and private players. Let cars pay more for parking on prime land at peak time.This will influence people’s decision to use cars and benefit increased usage of public transport.
Fourth, customising for local conditions has been a hallmark of Uber and hence it was able to adapt better in new areas. There is no concept of a universal parking fee or a universal solution for parking issues. The local conditions influence strategies and hence proof of parking should be a choice for local governments to implement based on studies and findings.
Uber-like systems incentivised people to leave their private cars and use taxis for riding to office or market. Governments have started to realise their importance, as the burden to provide parking has been relieved. Yet, the question of congestion remains unanswered and needs further assessment. However, it has helped us understand the benefits of market on public issues like mobility and transport.
Finally, Uber has helped us realise the power of technology and this is exactly what parking management systems require. Technology is currently confined to automation of multilayer parking and needs space for innovation. Parking spaces are still boring and cars are dead items when parked. Smart solutions require effective utilisation of space and meeting the requirements of the passengers. We are still waiting for that innovation, which can only happen through a right parking policy strategy that encourages innovation and limits government intervention. Maybe, the next Uberisation could be in parking!
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            Madhu S is Director (Research & Projects ) at CPPR. Views expressed by the author is personal and does not reflect that of CPPR.



[1]http://indianexpress.com/article/india/parking-space-proof-may-be-mandatory-for-vehicle-registration-govt/
[2]http://www.reinventingparking.org/2010/08/japan-style-proof-of-parking.html
[3]http://www.slbchp.com/Files/PMAY%20GUIDELINES.pdf
[4]http://fortune.com/2016/10/04/new-jersey-uber/