Chennai adds around 400 new vehicles each day to its roads. While this may be heartening for those who consider it an index of prosperity, it is a matter of worry for those concerned with congestion and its accompanying problems of pollution. And above all, there is the issue of parking, for which there appears to be no solution in sight. The Government has once again dusted and put out its idea of multi-level parking at five spots in the city. But is this to be followed up with action? Past experience does not indicate this.
A recent meeting of town planners saw discussion on the subject and it is reliably learnt that a consulting firm, which has been involved with many infrastructure projects in the city, has recommended revival of the multi-level parking schemes. These are to be located at the MUC Ground, the Broadway Bus Stand, Government Estate, T’Nagar and Gandhi Nagar. The last two will be single-level parking lots while the others will vary between five and seven floors. Overall, these will have capacity to accommodate around 1500 cars and 600 two-wheelers. It is a mere drop in the ocean when you compare it with the number of vehicles plying in the city.
What is more, there is no guarantee that these projects will ever take off. The Broadway parking facility saw the tender process being repeated four times over as many years and successive relaxing of norms before a bidder emerged. There are considerable doubts over the commercial viability of such lots. However, there has been some progress in the past couple of months with soil-testing being concluded and work expected to begin shortly.
In a related development, the CMDA relaxed its norms for multi-level parking spaces in highrises. The concession to build multi-level parking which was available for IT buildings has now been extended to all highrises and this constructed space will not be included in calculation of FSI. This has been hailed by the real estate lobby as a major step forward, but what about the buildings that have already been constructed with hardly any space around and for which there is no scope of any new construction?
Lastly, there was the much-hyped unveiling of automated parking meters at select locations in the city. Two years later, several of these do not work, and there are no punitive measures for those who simply do not pay and, above all, the few meters that do work have not been upgraded to accept the new coins in circulation. All this is not indicative of an administration keen on solving its parking woes.
Perhaps what is needed is some tough measures akin to what the Rajasthan High Court has decreed. It has said that cars cannot be sold to those who do not have allocated parking space for their vehicles. Chennai would do well to consider such an option. It will depress vehicle sales, but it may go a long way in improving the quality of life. Of course, it is unlikely that such a stringent norm will ever be followed.
Another option would be to increase parking fees to a much higher amount by way of a congestion surcharge. This too would prove a deterrent for people to travel in private vehicles for destinations that could be covered by public transport or on foot.
Ultimately, the best solution would be to improve the quality of public transport and provide better conditions for walking – easily the healthiest option. Can we look at some out-of-the-box solutions in that direction?