On parking

Published: September 6, 2012

The writer is the vice-president of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and also is chairman of Lesco. The views expressed in this article are his own

One of the more recent initiatives of the Government of Punjab, which has — in the absence of a local government — assumed responsibility over urban planning in city districts, is the formation of the Lahore Parking Company as an autonomous wing of the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL).

Car parking may appear to be of trivial significance, paling in importance to things such as sewage treatment and infrastructure development, but a scratch beneath the surface reveals an interaction with urban planning and development that is too important to ignore.

Hitherto, the practice of parking regulation is carried out by auctioning various recognised parking areas throughout the city. In this manner, the city district government earns revenue and control over parking — which is no more than having a tag stuffed under your windscreen wiper and paying Rs10 if you are lucky enough to find a vacant spot.

The CDGL says that there are 367 parking lots in the city and that about 160 of those “are no longer operational” — which means that the CDGL isn’t earning rent from them. Of course, there are plenty more parking lots in the city where “unapproved parking stands” operate. The CDGL claims that there are over one billion rupees to be earned annually through auctioning parking lots and that it is currently earning only a fraction of this potential.

The strategy of the Lahore Parking Company appears to be to take control of the management and rent collecting from all parking lots in the city. It also plans to construct new parking plazas and automate parking by introducing ‘modern technology’. It is receiving Rs200 million from the Government of Punjab as seed money to begin its task. Parking policy in Lahore isn’t about parking. It’s about rent-seeking, with the CDGL as the rent-seeker. It isn’t about improving congestion in the city or improving urban transport facilities. For that, this issue has to be looked at from a completely different angle.

New thinking on parking would begin by identifying the various stakeholders: citizens, who require parking close to their homes or work; businesses that prefer parking close to their doorstep to facilitate customers and employees; developers requiring parking that keeps their projects profitable; and cities, which should require well-managed parking for its citizens while providing for development, congestion management, quality of life and air quality.

These competing interests are all affected by the high costs of parking. In New Delhi, for example, it is estimated that cars take up about 10 per cent of the available land in the city. With low parking fees, it is easy to spot the massive subsidy being provided to the elite that has access to automobiles. A bottle of mineral water is Rs15 but you can park your car in the city all-day for just Rs10. Elsewhere, keeping in mind construction costs, providing parking plazas means incurring heavy expenditures. In Lahore, the Liberty Parking plaza costs upwards of Rs2.5 million per car and this does not include the value of the land the plaza was built on.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani automobile elite seem to think that free and abundant parking is, somehow, a birthright. It is this realm that parking policy must address: where parking is considered a ‘need’ that ought to be catered to rather than a service the city provides at a cost. I need my cup of coffee every morning but don’t think it’s right to argue that the CDGL provide it to me, freely and abundantly, every morning.

Automobile congestion is choking access through the city, which in turn affects the ability of the city to be the dynamic entity that it should be. The chief means of reducing the number of automobiles in a city is public transport; the other is congestion charging. New parking policies must be integrated into the public transport policies of the city. It remains to be seen whether the Lahore Parking Company takes the initiative and begins planning for the chief minister’s beleaguered Bus Rapid Transit project or whether this newcomer on Lahore’s urban planning scene follows the path of so many other good intentions.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • BRUISED INDIAN
    Sep 6, 2012 - 2:53AM

    In New Delhi for example…. why must India be a benchmark for Pakistan? Its so deeply ingrained now that even authors need to get the ‘humsaya mulk’ in to play just so that a mirror can be shown to the natives!
    By the way the INR10 parking is well into its coffin and Delhiites are saying hello to automated multi level parking lots and that costs an arm and a leg.

    Please dont compare Pakistan to India… India is atleast 10 – 15 years ahead if not more in terms of Infrastructure and development,

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  • Falcon
    Sep 6, 2012 - 4:37AM

    Rafay – A very interesting article. How about Govt. privatize the whole parking space management and focus on only one thing, giving tickets to people who have their automobiles inappropriately parked. This will create a cycle of its own. Firstly, people will start looking for parking lots to stay away from parking penalties. Secondly, private parking land owners with raise the prices to match the prevailing real estate cost in the area. Since expensive areas will attract more cars in general, parking lots in those areas will charge higher cost as well. This in return will discourage automobiles and encourage public transport in those areas. Putting it altogether, this will sort of equalize automobile traffic across different areas through financial incentives / dis-incentives. This is how major developed urban centers work.

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  • anwar
    Sep 6, 2012 - 7:38PM

    Yes its a birth right..!! Recommend

  • sfsh
    Sep 7, 2012 - 3:42AM

    @Bruised Indian: India is 10-15 years ahead of Pakistan in certain areas, that’s why so many authors make these comparisons. India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka – all these areas have somewhat similar topography, culture and history, why not make the best of that and see each other as examples to follow to collectively improve the global standard of living?
    Think of the concept of sister cities etc, models to adapt and follow. I don’t understand why this comparison bothers you.

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  • BRUISED INDIAN
    Sep 7, 2012 - 5:47PM

    @sfsh: It does bother! Know why?
    Cause when 70% (am being miser) of the population of Pakistan claims to have Turkish, Persian or Arabian ancestry yet a yardstick of comparison to the ‘Humsaya Mulk’ is brought to light.

    Culture? NO Way Jose, culture is different! The ‘Hinduana Rasm-o-Riwaaz’ are a NO NO area for the masses yet the comparison is made on an hourly basis.

    History? What about the textbooks in Schools, FB and Twitter entries on Social Media, and the intellectually bankrupt Talk Shows crying hoarse that Arabs (read Pakistani’s) hukumat over Hind was over a 1000 years? In that case we dont share history.

    Topography? Pakistan doesnt have Kerala backwaters and India doesnt have the rich granite mountains of Balochistan – Our topography isnt the same; ever been to Amritsar? Its not Lahore! Ever been to Mumbai? Its not Karachi!

    The only comparison I have ever made personally, is the quality of Murree beer and its Dry Gin! Its something I keep looking forward to my trips to Europe. ;-)

    @ Author: Am sorry this comment of mine is no where close to the subject you wrote about.

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  • sfsh
    Sep 9, 2012 - 6:14PM

    @BRUISED INDIAN:
    I didn’t realise the words ‘somewhat similar’ would be understood to mean ‘exactly the same’. I clarified my point by bringing up the phenomenon of sister-cities; no two cities anywhere are perfectly alike, but it’s absurd to believe effective models in one can’t work in another. That’s pretty much the entire point of exchanging ideas internationally.
    As for your comment on the Pakistani population as individuals and their beliefs about their ancestry, I really don’t know if that’s true – you may be right. But even as obnoxious as these claims may sound – claims of what is ultimately globally shared ancestry seem somewhat irrelevant here.

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  • Mahboob Mohsin
    Oct 11, 2012 - 3:33PM

    10-15 years ahead and yet bruised?
    Comparative analysis never ruined any country be its political scientists comparing political developments or the author comparing ‘parkings’ of the neighbour countries. @Bruised indian! i assure you that comparison is just to understand the case in a wholistic way. No good to be too critical and possessive, save patriotism.

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