Monday, March 26, 2018

P for Pune or P for Parking?

“The way humans hunt for parking and the way animals hunt for food are not as different as you might think.” … Tom Vanderbilt.

I must first congratulate Tom Vanderbit, author of famous urban classic, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, for taking up a subject which we live virtually by now, especially in Pune. As look at our daily routine & the time we spend in driving, and then the Tom’s words will hit you more deep! Well I am sure by now Punekar’s have mastered in hunting the parking places as when I read the news about hohallah about parking policy by our "Mai Bapp" PMC, its Tom’s above words which came to my mind first! I appreciate Puneakr’s for opposing anything many a times just for the sake of oppose, especially when it’s something related to the city & the latest issue is parking policy proposed by civic administration of PMC. Well since long parking has become a serious curse, like a cancer to the city streets & things have become so serious that recently a tech guy was killed out of parking problems as he objected few people to park their vehicle in-front of his bungalow gate. And this is not the first or last such case, there has been major fights over parking, especially in old city or gaothan areas where the existing wadas of buildings don’t have parking in their premise & people has to park their vehicles on roads or where ever they get secure place. And I think here is the crux of the main parking policy, whether roads which are a public property, can or shall be used to park private vehicles free of cost & if yes why? Well, anyone will say one must pay if he is using public place for use of private purpose but then the answer isn’t as simple as it looks on face. The parking issue is like an octopus, with multiple tentacles which are spread from public transport to building by-laws to urban development polices to real estate calculations to auto industries balance sheets to politics! Agreed last one i.e. politics is like environment i.e. connected to everything related to society or say human beings! And I really wonder any political party (even the one in ruling in State) has understood this cancer named parking first & second has a will to cure it? Because this is not something which has arise in a day or week or even year; parking issue was bound to gulp the city some day as if any sane person is reading news papers over last few decades & the statistics of addition of new vehicles on city roads, would have guessed this present scene long back. Now as usual everybody is busy (even media) in analyzing or blaming is proper word for the parking scene as well parking policy. And opposition parties are first to jump in as what better time they can have than this to show their apathy for the citizens! Even the various NGO’s are in split whether to support the so called burden on citizen’s pocket or to support the logic in first place behind implementing the paid parking on road policy!

Well, this is specialty of Pune as whatever the outcome may be yet we need controversy about the subject here. Let’s see, what this so called parking policy rather entire parking aspect is. Till early 1980’s Pune was never bothered of parking as the term was restricted to only for the people who used to live in bungalows in parabhat road or camp locality i.e. rich citizens! The city was known for cyclists & tangas which doesn’t need much space for parking’s as well distances were not much to travel, even use of auto rickshaw was only for few. The real estate was just strengthening its roots in the suburbs & no wonder the then city planners who made policies related to parking as well road widths didn’t see any need to accommodate parking space for cars as well two wheelers (an error of our planners which made the entire city suffer later)! So most of the roads are hardly 6 meters or 9 meters wide & many buildings in 80’s you see today without any parking provisions i.e. ground floored structures. Even the major artery roads of the city like Karve road or Sinhgad road were not made wide enough, though in later DP’s (development plans) an effort has made to correct the mistakes but the damage has been done by then. IT parks was not a term which was heard of & industries like Telco & Bajaj were settling themselves but their employees are happy to commute by company busses. On weekends people used to take a rickshaw or PMT to central parts of the city like Deccan, Laxmi road or MG road as cars was only for riches. Even two wheelers were not required & on week day’s right from collegians to mid age citizens won’t mind paddling & yes cycling was no fashion thing but a day to day activity. And all you have available in two wheelers is Bajaj scooters or Luna mopeds & bikes means Rajdoot or Bullet, that’s all. The city was calm & pollution free from exhausts of vehicles, the roads were enough to accommodate the private as well public vehicles & only traffic jam time was some peak hour at evening or morning, unlike all day long jams today everywhere.

But as this was like peace before tornado, just the way they show in some fiction movie, with one curse of some witch, a small boy gets turned in to a huge ugly monster; the city’s traffic scene was on the verge of curse & before anybody can do anything about it the traffic & parking has taken the form of a monster! Agreed as I said we as a planner failed to understand this monster named traffic in making is equally true. As post 90’s, the city’s economy itself started changing with entry of IT as well Education Industry (pardon me for the term) along with growth of Auto Industry as well other industries in & around the city. This made happen two things, the existing city which was just like a big town started expanding its perimeter & more numbers of people started coming to make this city their home. This was a burden on city public transport (whatever little it was) & obviously the then PMT now PMPML wasn’t equipped by infrastructure & by will to accommodate this suddenly increased in traffic. Rather with any other professionally driven transport organization, this increased distance, newer destinations & traffic commuter’s increased numbers would have been boon to increase business, but not for our PMT as well its top bosses who were politicians first then anything for the city. And here is first entry of the cancer named traffic been made in Pune as people were required to travel for their job, for their daily shopping needs, for schooling & even for entertainment on weekends & there was no public transport system in place to take care of their travel needs in & around Pune. Obvious outcome was buying private vehicles & at the same time i.e. late 90’s suddenly with our free economy policy, there were hundreds of option in two wheeler markets in the name of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Hero, TVS Suzuki & it’s like flood gate for two wheeler buyers! Within next ten years by 2000 the city is no more cycle city but two wheeler city. Even at least by then the traffic planners as well city rulers should have awakened against the threat of traffic yet nobody did anything & soon in every corner of the city two wheeler companies show room can be seen making all sorts of finance schemes available for buyers.

Post year 2000 there was IT boom which made average citizen of Pune richer & so did everyone connected to IT i.e. service industry too grew in leaps. And then real estate blossomed like anything, every square inch of land become gold & with all this new inflow of money then next buy was obviously four wheeler as not only it become a status symbol but need also. As for the family of four to go some place together a rickshaw could accommodate only three passengers & with the kind of rickshaw service (read their way to accept or reject the passengers depending up on destination) it was never a strong option for public transport. And when every other segment of the city (read society) was becoming stronger on financial as well status front the public transport of the city (now PMC & PCMC  both) was keep on becoming weak. I really doubt that for the benefits of auto industry this was deliberately done by our rulers as look at any city in world the public transport has grown or say prospered along with the city which was exactly opposite case with Pune! Result was by end of 2017 we have nearly four million private vehicle (two & four wheelers), narrow roads & no public parking places!

Now what PMC & PCMC did is make the parking norms stringent i.e. keep increasing per unit (read flat) parking space within the new projects. But this is like making bigger garbage depot to accommodate more garbage, which is not going to work ever! As what about the existing development & their occupants vehicles & second is now the scene is most homes have two numbers of four wheelers & three numbers two wheelers & no building can accommodate this kind of vehicles, the planning becomes impossible both financially as well physically making space to occupy such vehicle load! And then what we were going to do when all these vehicles comes on road & put in use? You can make space for parking at night in a building where the owner is residing but what when he takes that vehicle out for buying grocery or he goes to drop his son to school or when he goes to his dentist? Where he is going to park his vehicle at all such times as there is no place on road & public parking reservations have not made available in the volume they are required is a fact?

Here is where the civic body comes with a unique funda, the new parking policy i.e. make people pay for parking of their vehicles when it’s on road. Logically it’s correct that if you are using public place for your private parking then you have to pay for it & it’s applicable in most of the big cities across the world. But then why a person in first place required getting his private vehicle out on road often, is the question I will ask to our rulers! At the same time look at our DC (development control) rules which instead making enough parking lots reservations & strengthening public transport infrastructure, focus on accommodating more vehicles in the building. This is in a way encouraging people to buy more vehicles at the same time this parking of vehicles takes out space for every other activity mainly the trees & children’s play area. No more any kid can play around the buildings as there is no space & all the time you are warned by the security watchmen that your cricket ball can damage society member’s cars! The trees are cut under the name that it’s leafs & branches make nuisance & its same story outside of buildings, on roads too; actual purpose is accommodate more vehicles on roads & in buildings! High time for our planners to accept that if we plan our city around the vehicles we will never able to become a good livable city, instead we should plan the city around tress & humans! Agreed these words might sound a bit dramatic & “gyan” types but that’s the fact we have been neglecting over the years & how much more price we want to pay for our negligence?

The only way to cure this parking cancer is make the public transport efficient as till we don’t do that, we don’t have got option to millions of private vehicles & then these vehicles will need space to park which will be never sufficient (even stand taken by media houses like Sakal also says so). Issue is not just about domestic vehicles, what about commercial vehicles or even public transport vehicles which occupies most of the road drive ways all night? We are unable to give parking space even for PMT busses & we are trying to frame a policy for pay & park, how citizens are going to accept it? I own a private vehicle & I don’t mind paying some parking charges to park my car on public road but is it the final solution of parking as problem is not parking but the millions of vehicles itself, is we are conveniently forgetting! And then allowing vehicles to park along the roads, what about reduced drive ways & traffic jams it creates? And now by latest news only on five roads pay & park has been finalized (one more joke), as what this thing is going to make difference? Imagine we have 10 lac (one million) of four wheelers & wit average 20 feet length for parking it makes one two crore feet length of roads to accommodate all these cars, even say 20% of cars will be on roads (applying safety  factor discount) still it makes forty lac running feet of road length & that makes  twelve lac meter length means nearly one thousand two hundred kilometer length of city roads to accommodate just 20% of cars & I haven’t considered 35 lac (3.5 millions) two wheelers in it! Now you can imagine the grave danger we are dealing with of this parking named cancer!

At the same time when we are being so busy in de-reserving lands under so called green belts  what about reservation for parking lots all in & around the city? How many parking lot reservations are there in DP & how many of them has been actually being made in use by acquiring such reservation lands, who has all this data & who is responsible for it? About parking charges also there is confusion as why a real needy citizens has to pay same as commercial busses parked whole night illegally on road or visitors to some commercial establishment like marriage lawn (needless to say illegal) where vehicles are required to park on roads instead making any mandatory provision for them within the premise! In nutshell first make a city where people will need not have to use their own vehicle frequently & then make a pay & park policy on all roads which will not be a burden on common man’s pocket. Like the famous dialogue in our Hindi films, “insan gunahagar nahi hota, halat use gunahgar bananepe majboor kar dete hai” i.e. "It’s not the person but mostly the circumstances which makes him a criminal!" Same is true when somebody parks his car or bike on city roads! I think citizens needs answers to all these questions then only civic body has moral right to implement new parking policy regarding paid parking on roads or even about parking norms itself in the building. Or else the day is not long where like they show in Hollywood movie Madmax, all we will see around is cars, bikes & air filled with their exhausts, that day the only policy will be “Jiski Gun Uska Parking!

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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