Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The parking woes of Chennai & National Association of Car Parking in Portugal

Sure you would know Portugal – the westernmost country of Europe bordered by Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east.  Something which cannot even dream of, occurred recently…………..

The commonest of the problems for a Chennaite is the chaotic traffic, mindless driving and trouble in finding a place to park your vehicle – be it a car or a two wheeler.  Ages ago, there existed pavements called foot paths meant for people to walk – now they are either non-existent or occupied by hawkers or by hoodlums.  In some areas it would appear as though people live on streets.  In some of the oldest residential localities like Triplicane, Mannadi, Mylapore, Chintadripet and more the lanes are narrow – one has to share the little available space with stray cattle, dogs, roadside shops.

In residential localities, people park vehicles on both sides of the roads, in front of their houses, virtually blocking the usage by others.  There are very few allotted parking places where you can legitimately park your vehicle.  In areas like T Nagar, if you plan to shop, either you have to go to a shop which possesses private parking or provides valet parking or go in the early hours to find a place to park your vehicle.  

It is the Corporation of Chennai which maintains parking lots and the official charges are very low.  It is Rs.5 per hour [is it that rate for the first 3 hours !] – finding one only is most difficult.  In many places, the contract is given to Ex-servicemen thorugh TN Exservicemen Corporation who have a profit sharing arrangement with the Corporation.  In other places, you could be at the mercy of thugs and locals who could fleece whatever they wish and not issue a receipt even.  Cruel still is the fact that the vehicle is at your own risk whether it is in a private  place or in the Govt approved parking lot.  There are some who would pick up arguments with the parking assistant trying to evade the fee; there are some who have a ‘G” or ‘Press’ written on the name board to evade.  But all cough up pretty heavy fees in malls.  EA has a unique arrangement wherein the charges are higher in the week end and more if you enter through premium entrance !

Recently,  Chennai Corporation commissioned 39 parking meters trying to regulate parking space.  Some of these places are : Mylapore near Kapaleeswarar temple, Shanthi Colony,  Annanagar II avenue, Purasawakkam High road, General Patters Road, Pondy Bazaar, Sardar Patel Road and Whites Road. It is reported that the  cost of installation of a parking meter is Rs.5 lakh. The parking fee collected by private operator of the parking meter for one hour is five rupees. The operator would hand over the parking meter to the Chennai Corporation after seven years. The operator would share 16 per cent of the revenue with the civic body.

Quite unfortunate that people build big malls and shops but have little place for parking dedicated to their customers.  In advanced countries, provision of parking place is mandatory and quite often distinguished by colour and height.  Generally these areas are paved with asphalt or concrete, some have permeable paving materials.  A well planned one will configure landscaping, draining and pollution abatements.   Where there is likelihood of more visitors / employees there has to be abundant place – may be open or closed land area providing ample space for placing the vehicles.  

The woes are compounded where people try to utilize the local train services.  Most suburban railway stations do not have proper parking lots.  There are private ones for parking two wheelers which are invariably overcrowded and users often complain of missing parts, vehicles getting damaged and petrol being stolen from vehicles.  

Most often it is said that woman are poor drivers and poorer in their parking sense adding to the woes.  Months back there was news that in Melbourne, a 41 year old woman plunged to ground from the 6th floor of a multi-storey car park.  It was a plush  Mitsubishi 4WD which  plunged 30m down  from the Kim Lim Parking lot in Melbourne's CBD.  There are umpteen instances of women causing traffic snarls and accidents.  But there are exceptions….
Hard to imagine that one can drive thus

There is one parking spot just opposite to the Omantharoorar complex built to house the TN Assembly.  It is a crowded area and one would jostle for space.  You could have seen her – a woman in uniform – just another of the very many ‘not so educated looking’ faces that you can see in Chennai.  She talks less but makes driving so simple.  Here maneuvering skills are so appreciable that she would squeeze in bigger saloons in to small spots in between cars.  As you stop to park your car after the Anna Statue [before P ORR sons / Hindu] – this women would take the keys and as you come back, you could find your car behind two rows placed as if a small play piece was placed on board.  Upon seeing you, she would deftly move the other cars that are placed in front, make room for yours and keep it ready for you – all for the small fee that you pay to the Corporation as parking fee !  the more I see her, more I marvel her skills on how and where she learnt her driving skills………….

The Western World is far more organized and abide by the ground rules.  There are Parking associations ! and the  European Parking Association is the umbrella organisation of 19 European national parking organisations.  In 1980, the members of the various European parking associations met in Vienna for the first time in order to find a way of a co-operation on an international level and subsequently founded European Parking Association. Every two years, the EPA hosts an international congress on which the problems and perspectives of stationary traffic in connection with the traffic development in the cities of Europe are discussed. Renowed personalities from politics and science are among the guests and the active participants of the EPA congress which additionaly offers an opportunity to the manufacturers, suppliers and others active in this field to promote their products and services on the accompanying shows. The Secretariat is based in Cologne, Germany. The official language of the association is English.  The Association has also instituted an award ‘European Standard Parking Award’  where the carpark that fulfils certain standard criteria with respect to safety and customer services is awarded honour.

Recently in Portugal, Authorities fined the National Association of Car Park Companies nearly €2 million for allegedly engaging in anti-competitive activity in the management and provision of car parking facilities. Going by published reports, the infraction dates back to 2006, when the government approved Legislative Decree 81/2006 and thereby established conditions for the use of parking lots and zones. Among other things, the legislative decree determined the pricing for parking facilities.

The decree provided for that in respect of  short-stay parking (ie, up to 24 hours), the tariff structure must be divided into increments of no more than 15 minutes and a customer need pay only for the fraction of a period that  was being used. The Association in trying to protect revenue earning proposed introduction of entrance fee, a fixed fee for entering the parking lot.    The association has been penalized for adopting a decision whose object or effect was to restrict competition. There was the rule that the fine should not exceed 10% of aggregate annual turn over.  This is a landmark fine for infringement of pricing.  The Association is likely to go on appeal against the Authority’s order.

Compare this with the scenario in Cine multiplexes, Shopping malls or Island grounds where Govt sponsored Exhibition runs, but the parking is invariably in the hands of private contractors who can fleece at will.

On a different note, do you know that there is a fully automated multi-level car park facility in the Chennai city.  The first and only such system is in the retail showroom of Saravana Stores at Purasawalkam inaugurated in Sept 2010.   Equipped with an elevator at each of the entry-cum-exit points, this facility accommodates 56 cars at a time.  Saravana is the shop that sells everything at throw away prices, sometimes cheaper than the platform trader.  Such a shop providing extravagant facility is unimaginable.  A fully automated MLCP is a stacked car parking solution with several levels.  The touch of a button tells the operator which slots are vacant in each floor. Once the operator chooses the slot to place the car in, the corresponding pallet slides its way through the maze of pallets and is brought down by an elevator.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar. 

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