From traffic flow to pedestrian access: Shifting Mumbai’s parking policy
Pedestrians cross a congested road in Mumbai, India. Photo by Jerry H/Flickr.

Pedestrians passing across a congested road in Mumbai, India highlights a growing question – will India’s cities be built for people or for cars? Photo by Jerry H/Flickr.

In a recent study, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that the area required for parking in India if motorization trends continue as they are today will reach between 10,000 and 20,000 square kilometers (3,861 to 7,722 square miles) by 2050 – an area up to 35 times the current size of the entire city of Mumbai. With the country’s urban population expected to top 820 millionby the same year, Indian cities face a choice: are we going to create cities for vehicles or the people who live in them?

Effective parking management is a crucial element to sustainable urban growth, particularly in Mumbai – where the Metropolitan Regional Development Authority has reported that up to 52% of total trips are made via walking. But the city’s parking policies favor motorists, which has generated many negative impacts, including inaccessible streets for non-motorized transport users, traffic congestion, poor ventilation, and a lack of priority for public transport. All of these factors contribute to an overwhelming parking crisis in Mumbai. It’s time for a revision of the city’s parking policies.

Double and triple parking around Horniman Circle in Mumbai, India. Photo by Rejeet Mathews/EMBARQ India.

Double and triple parking around Horniman Circle in Mumbai, India, reveals the city’s escalating parking crisis. Photo by Rejeet Mathews/EMBARQ India.

Reforming Mumbai’s approach to parking management

Currently, there is almost no management of on-street parking in Indian cities – unless it impacts traffic flow. Ever increasing demand drives the creation of off-street parking supply, including multi-level parking lots. There’s also an additional Floor Space Index (FSI) incentive that encourages developers to build more parking lots. These conditions have resulted in a vicious cycle of meeting excessive parking demand by creating more supply, which only attracts more cars and results in automobile-oriented land use and transport planning. This cycle was recently explored in Fei Li’s research on London’s parking standard, and is visualized in the graphic below:

Cycle of Automobile-Oriented Planning. Graphic by Victoria Transport Policy Institute, modified by EMBARQ.

Cycle of Automobile-Oriented Planning. Graphic by Victoria Transport Policy Institute, modified by EMBARQ.

Despite having lower levels of car ownership and higher dependencies on public transport, the off-street parking requirements of Mumbai are higher than that of corresponding requirements in cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Delhi. And real estate prices in Mumbai’s Central Business District are more comparable to those of New York City and Milan than the average in its counterpart cities like Shanghai and Abu Dhabi – indicating that hidden subsides for car users are at work in Mumbai.

Given these incongruities in Mumbai’s parking policies, there’s an urgent need to shift parking management from focusing only on traffic flow to improving pedestrian accessibility and public transport. This shift is detailed in the following graphic, which also suggests how parking policy reforms can also help improve the vibrancy of city streets.

Proposed Shift for Mumbai’s Parking Policy. Graphic by EMBARQ.

Proposed Shift for Mumbai’s Parking Policy. Graphic by EMBARQ.

Proposed solutions

There are several possible solutions that Mumbai could implement independently – or ideally in tandem – to facilitate the shift detailed above. For example, the city’s institutional framework for parking policy formation and enforcement must be strengthened. The current status quo of little to no coordination among various agencies involved in parking policy has proven ineffective at addressing the current parking crisis, so one proposed solution is the creation of a new Comprehensive Parking Unit (CPU). Such a unit would need to be equipped with both the technical and personnel capacity to manage parking on a ward-to-ward basis across the city. The CPU would provide a broader service of responsibility for city-wide policies and strategies, including determining the total supply of on-street and off-street parking, level of fines, and severity of punishment for violators. The creation of a CPU also offers an opportunity for the private sector to play an active role in reforming and maintaining more effective parking policies in Mumbai. Private organizations could be contracted to conduct demand and supply inventories, as well as to enforce parking regulations in coordination with the city’s traffic police. In addition to strengthening on-street parking management through establishing a CPU, other concrete measures that could be taken to mitigate Mumbai’s parking crisis include the following:

  • Identify “Walkable Park-Once Neighborhoods – Following examples set by Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei, parking could be allocated for entire areas or neighborhoods, rather than for individual plots. This method regulates shared spaces by providing residential permits or implementing congestion pricing.
  • Involve local stakeholders – Reach out to stakeholders such as the Chamber of Commerce, industrial associations, and residential associations that have authority in terms of managing local parking. Including these groups in the pricing and revenue sharing processes helps disperse benefits of on-street parking management throughout society.
  • Follow strong planning guidelines for off-street parking – High-quality off-street parking can be developed through Development Control Regulations (DCR), which determine parking maximums based on plot size.
  • Allow flexibility in meeting parking requirements – Building in flexibility for developers to meet parking requirements, such as granting long-term leases for parking spaces, can help limit total car ownership.

Shift policies and strengthen institutions to unlock urban benefits

As the largest city in India – the second most populous country on earth – Mumbai’s parking policies have the potential to tap into a myriad of benefits for nearly 12.5 million people. But if they hold their current course, the negative consequences of ever increasing motorization, traffic congestion, and a focus on automobile-centric planning could be grave. Shifting the city’s parking policies through a combination of the solutions described above could help Mumbai improve the vibrancy of its public spaces, and improve the quality of life for its urban residents.

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