HYDERABAD: The state government announced in May 2018 that malls will not be allowed to collect parking fees from customers who shop at outlets within their premises. Visitors could park their vehicles for free for up to 30 minutes. Above that period, they need not pay any parking fee if they show a bill of purchase made at the mall.
Shoppers were delighted with this “people-friendly” move. Over the next few weeks, mall owners came to terms with the fact that they had lost a revenue stream and there was nothing they could do about it. But was the government’s move right?
Many urban planners feel free parking at public or private spaces is against free economics and good urban planning. However, there are others who contend providing parking is public good and government is duty bound to provide it.
According to Rutul Joshi, an associate professor at CEPT University (formerly Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology) in Ahmedabad, the move towards free parking is indicative of public perception. “This is the conventional thought about parking. Even courts think the same way. But as incomes increase, so do number of vehicles. We cannot go on considering parking as an assured and free service. We have to start putting a price tag on it. The job of the government is to provide quality public transit and not free parking,” Joshi observes. He believes parking space is real estate. How long can it be subsidised? A vehicle is a private commodity. One cannot expect public entities to provide free space to private goods.
Mr Vijay Gopal, an activist who had filed a public interest litigation in the High Court against malls collecting parking fee, contends private establishments cannot be allowed to charge customers for parking when they are making purchases at their premises. He believes parking should be free. But how about when space runs out?
“By law, the government has no other option but to provide parking to citizens,” Mr Gopal says but concedes that when space runs out, the government can charge a fee. “However, the fee should be economical,” he states while in the same breath adding, “For some it could be economical, for others it might not.”
It is this very attitude that Mr Joshi resists. He believes the idea of forcing businesses or even government entities to provide free services is against basic laws of economics. He elucidates this with an example: “If I buy a dining table, why should the government give me space to place it. Ideally, the government should charge for parking everywhere. Let the market forces decide how expensive parking should be. It must be left to businesses to decide whether or not they want to provide free parking service.”
Mr A.G. Krishna Menon, a Delhi-based architect and urban planner, believes there must be a paradigm shift in how one thinks about public spaces. “A car is not conducive to good city life. Very few people have them. Voices that ask for free parking are those of the elite looking for their own benefit,” he remarks. He points out that most of the people who use roads are pedestrians. “Why shouldn’t we spend more on them? Why not spend enough on public transport that is used by many people,” Mr Menon asks.
The voices of Mr Menon and Mr Gopal, however, are in a minority. Most people have not yet given it a detailed thought. Mr Satish Kumar Pendyala, who had approached Mr Gopal to file his plea, is not happy with the status quo. He believes people should be allowed to park their vehicles inside commercial establishments for at least three hours....