Thursday, November 4, 2010

Parking realities in the real world: An example from Calcutta

Paul Barter reports on the basic principles of parking and real world contradictions from Calcutta, in an article posted yesterday to his new blog "Reinventing Parking: Understand your community's parking policy choices". And as many of our readers will recognise, it's an old old story.

Calcutta's on-street parking "extortion rackets"

When the "parking meters" are human beings, they actually notice for themselves when the parking is saturated. As you might expect, this makes raising prices rather tempting. Indeed, something like this is happening in the streets of India's large cities.

If you are a Shoupista, then it sounds perfect to adjust prices when the parking is full. Shoupistas are supporters of Prof Donald Shoup's parking policy ideas, which include performance-pricing for on-street parking spaces.

There is just one problem. Raising the prices is against the law.

Here is a current example from Calcutta (Kolkata) in India, as reported in The Telegraph (Calcutta) newspaper. The outcomes are far from perfect. (Note that currently US$1 = Rs 44 or so):
Extortion rackets thrive in broad daylight across the city in the name of car parking. The rackets — run by cooperatives issued licences by the civic body, in collusion with police and local goons — force car owners to shell out exorbitant sums...

Metro visited three such parking zones where owners have to pay between Rs 20 and Rs 50 per hour for parking their cars. The hourly rates fixed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are Rs 7 for cars and Rs 3 for motorcycles.

There are more details in the rather breathless report.

Sadly, the nasty side-effects here certainly outweigh any benefits from 'rational pricing'.

  • The 'human parking meters' (employees of the cooperatives with contracts to run the parking) have become criminals.

  • The report alleges that the local police have also been corrupted and even count cars in order to estimate their cut.

  • Presumably the agency overseeing the parking contracts has also been compromised by graft.

  • Since these extra parking payments have no legal sanction, only some not-so-subtle intimidation persuades motorists to pay. There is potential for real nastiness that would make the Parking Wars TV show look tame.

  • Finally, most of the money paid is rewarding crime rather than helping to pay for much-needed services.

These are not good outcomes!

The journalist seems to see think better enforcement is the answer. Good luck with that when all the incentives point towards the corrupt outcome that he so vividly reports.

Maybe a better way would be to reduce the temptation to corruptly raise prices? But how?

* * *

# # #

About the author:

Paul Barter is an Assistant Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore where he teaches infrastructure policy, urban policy, transport policy and an introduction to public policy. He has published studies of transport policy in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. His current research interests are in innovation in transport demand management, public transport regulation, and contested priorities in urban transport policy.

Print this article