Park it as Hungarians do !


Author : Kumar Manish

Hungary’s capital Budapest has turned tide of parking menace by initiating and enforcing a lot of parking reforms in last few years to improve the quality of urban life. In the main city area, one is amazed to see streets completely free of parked cars, which provide ample and comfortable space for pedestrians and cyclists to move around. Few years ago, Budapest was exploding with increasing number of cars and insatiable demand for free parking space on the streets. Private vehicles were filling up every available space in the city and also reaching up to its boundaries. More or less, a situation same like in present Ahmedabad. 

The effects of easily and freely available parking facilities in Budapest were traffic chaos, unhealthy environment, and unsafe streets to walk or cycle on and growing use and dependence on private vehicles. Sensing the impending trouble for sustainable growth of Budapest, city authorities brought a paradigm shift by introducing a progressive parking policy and enforcement mechanism to put it in practice. This change towards parking was also a result of an impending penalty from European Union (EU) on rising air pollution levels in Budapest, which was “linked primarily to growing vehicular traffic”. It is a mandatory requirement in the EU that in the cities of its member states, air pollution levels cannot reach a certain limit.

The city started its parking reforms by creating a separate parking management authority, an SPV dedicated to address parking. The city put more than 90,000 parking lots under its control and created its payment zone system by dividing cities into different zones. Each zone of the city, starting from the core area, has different parking fee slabs and hours for which one can park their vehicles in the respective zone. None of the zones allow more than three to four hours of parking at a stretch. Also, parking fee in core city area is much higher than in outer zones. The revenue generated from parking fee is reinvested in the city. One of the best examples is that Budapest uses its parking revenue surplus in procuring new buses which read out ‘Thank you for paying your parking fee’ assuring citizens of the proper utilization of parking fees and garnering better support for it.

Budapest, in addition to introducing parking charges, has also improved city connectivity by public transportation system (trams, metro and public buses). The city also invested in well-designed pedestrian and cycle ways, making city more accessible and safe for the commuters. Parking requirements in commercial areas are tied with availability of public transport facilities. Corvin Shopping Centre with its historical Corvin Cinema in Budapest is a unique development project, which has reduced total amount of parking space by half as required because public transport connections offer excellent accessibility. The Centre has revitalised the area and now a popular meeting point. The city also introduced lot of pedestrian-friendly streets and restricted entry of cars in heavily pedestrian-ised areas in many parts of the city.

Caught up in traffic jam

Caught up in traffic jam

Ahmedabad and Budapest are very similar. Both are spread in about 500 sq km area, divided in two parts by a river and have a core city area. The existing parking scenario in Ahmedabad is no different with more than 600 vehicles added to the streets daily, putting pressure to create more parking spaces or convert public space into the former. Almost free or negligible charges and unregulated parking spaces have fueled traffic congestion, pushed pedestrians on the brink and have boosted usage of private vehicles. Poor public transport is also to blame for this growing mess on the roads.

Three-year-old BRTS in Ahmedabad is a ray of hope to bring back the faith of people on buses. Ahmedabad can take a leaf out of parking reforms introduced in Budapest to suit its parking needs. Chennai already has put forward a proposal to establish a parking management authority on lines of Budapest. Regulated parking can be used as tool to improve quality of urban life and also for discouraging usage of private vehicles. 

Budapest-based Zoltan Gyarmati, an expert in parking issues emphasises that it is of utmost importance that rights and ownership of parking management is with the city government. He is also of the opinion that the city should introduce widest variety of payment methods to improve willingness to pay by cash, credit cards, RFID/city-cards and cellphones. Ahmedabad has recently prepared a parking policy but its fate is still not clear. 

*The column originally got published in DNA, a national English daily published from India,