Colombo is in need of better managed parking as the city continues to grapple with congestion on the streets.
According to the Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry, by 2017, the vehicle population in Sri Lanka was 7,247,122, as compared to 6,795,469 vehicles in 2016. Over 500,000 vehicles reportedly enter Colombo daily and there is a serious shortage for most of these vehicles to find parking in the city.
The failure by the authorities to meet the demand for more parking spaces through a proper city plan has contributed to traffic jams in most parts of Colombo.
At present, there are two types of parking: on-street parking and off-street parking. On-street parking involves using the lanes designated for parking along the main roads in Colombo. Off-street parking involves using car parks, either in private property or public car parks. One immediate solution to partly resolve the congestion in the city is to manage the existing parking spaces, particularly on-street parking.
University of Moratuwa Civil Engineering Department Head Prof. J.M.S.J. (Saman) Bandara said the existing parking spaces are not managed properly. He noted that in some places, drivers occupy on-street parking for longer hours and that prevents people looking for a very short time to park, being unable to do so.
Prof. Bandara said there needs to be different rates and parking systems based on the location, as opposed to one uniform system all over. For example, Prof. Bandara feels parking near schools should be for short durations, so the parents can drop their children and go, while there needs to be on-street parking slots for longer durations at other locations.
Prof. Bandara said a survey carried out by the Moratuwa University identified the ‘hotspots’ for parking and the analysis was handed over to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).
The analysis identifies the locations people park the most and on average; it has been found that people park for approximately one hour and 10 minutes.
He said there also needs to be proper information disseminated to the public using the available technology on smartphones for drivers to identify where parking is available.
“Otherwise it adds up to the traffic when people drive around slowly looking for parking,” he noted.
Need for proper awareness
Dr. Dimantha De Silva of the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Moratuwa said there also needs to be proper awareness on the need for better managed parking and paid parking.
“People look at parking as a cost. They perceive that as a separate cost than the out of pocket cost they have to pay for their fuel consumption or ticket price. They see this as a big onus. You know, paying Rs.50 to go two kilometres by car against paying Rs.50 for parking – it is two different perceptions. That’s why always when you don’t have this in the system, it is difficult to enforce it initially,” he said.
Looking at how systems work in evolved countries, the ‘pay to park’ concept ensures the authorities can restrict unwanted people coming into the city during peak hours.
“You can have a parking cost mechanism in the city. And this can be separate. You can have a short, long-term or medium-term parking pass. Your pricing mechanism will dictate how you can control. For example, if you want certain people to park it only for a very short time, then like in other parts of the world, you only provide 30 minutes of parking. If you park beyond 30 minutes, you are charged.
For example, if you come to the bank or the post office, which doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, you can identify and say this location as only 30 minutes. So, we restrict people coming and parking for five hours and taking that spot. We use it for different people. We use that space productively. You know there are mechanisms to do that. There are systems to do that. It’s a matter of how we enforce this,” he said.
Switch to off-street parking
Dr. De Silva is also of the opinion that off-street parking is not being made use of effectively.
“Ideally, on-street parking should be taken off little by little. Because what happens is, if there are two or three lanes on a road, if there is a parking lane on the left-side, the vehicle movement capacity is reduced on the left-most lane because of these few vehicles coming into the parking bay and coming out. Those are the issues with on-street parking. Someone can say, let’s take the on-street parking out. But practically it’s not going to work if you don’t have off-street parking.
There are UDA lands which won’t be used for another three to four years. On the short term we need to use these as parking lots. We have been telling authorities to identify lands like this. It will take some time to come to a complete solution – that will be when we can move to off-street parking.
But the cost-effectiveness we can’t do with this Rs.30 charge. When we increase the price, the private sector can come in and provide more supply. The private sector cannot come in because they can’t make money to compensate for their investment,” he said.
Dr. De Silva said that the proposal for paid parking was included in the Megapolis master plan and the CMC was encouraged to go with the project.
Smart parking using parking meters has been introduced by the CMC in partnership with the private sector.
Although it took a long time to complete, they commenced working on it but there are some problematic areas that arose; they should have been looked into before it was launched.
“There are minimum requirements before starting a project, which need to be looked into. On the payment front, I feel the cash option should be there, also a credit card option and a mobile application,” he said.
Dr. De Silva noted that the CMC system has the ability of a mobile application but lack of public awareness resulted in the system not being made proper use of.
The other issue is the distance between the parking meters. Dr. De Silva said there needs to be a minimum distance at which the machines are available.
“You know the typical distance people would walk is 200 metres. That is why we have the bus halts at 400 metre intervals. So, anyone who goes in the middle can walk either side to get the ticket. Basically you can have a ticketing machine every 400 meters.
That must be the criteria to the company that manages parking – in that you have this flexibility – payment methods and token ticketing machines at this distance.”
On the enforcement side, Dr. De Silva said there needs to be a better mechanism to ensure good and effective enforcement.
“At the moment, I feel the pricing is too low. But we need to start somewhere. Fines should have a maximum cap. There can be people who might be manipulating the system. With the current system of enforcement, someone can park for three hours; when they get caught they might pay the fine. With a fee of Rs.30 an hour, someone gets a Rs.90 fine, he will not get charged for three hours – he only gets charged Rs.60. So, he’s still making money.
We need to have a mechanism for that kind of loophole. Because it’s a digital system, you will know who the frequent violators are. You also need to have the legal system in place to do that. It is not to inconvenience the people; it is to enforce the system,” he said.
In the end, educating the public on the need for better parking is key. Once the public fall into the system, everything else will fall in place.
“From the people’s point of view, we must educate them on why we are doing this. You know, there is a shortage of supply to provide everybody the service, so we want more people to use this. By paying a parking fee, what we are doing is limiting the number of unwanted parking. By doing this, we are giving more opportunity for people to find a parking spot. That is what we are basically doing. It is not just to make money; it is for controlling the congestion.
If someone comes for parking and doesn’t find it, they will just keep going around. That’s going to contribute more to the congestion. And we are losing the capacity of the road. Eventually we need to make parking profitable for the city. We need to go to that level to sustain an efficient road management system.”