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Wednesday , 29 May 2024

Building a case for Suburban Park & Ride – Where and how much?

Demand for Park & Ride is not expected to manifest itself unless the right infrastructure is put in place. Assessing the right amount of parking required for such facilities is the key and it is important that the methods required for such assessment are made use of, however complex or intractable they might seem. Vikas Sharma, Principal Transport Planner, PTV Asia Pacific Pty Ltd, Australia discuses the Indian scenario.

For all the right and wrong reasons, a discussion about public transport is always a spirited one. It usually involves heated comparison with private transport in terms of its relative environmental and traffic (congestion) impacts. Green credentials of public transport are always highlighted by, sometimes blatant, vilification of private transport. A new bus or metro service is always proposed by explaining how many cars it can take ‘off’ from the roads. The truth is that each of these modes has an important role to play in the mobility needs of urban India. Also, we rarely discuss win-win scenarios where both modes of transport complement each other instead of competing. Park & Ride scheme is one such example. It is important to look at how we can get it right. This article is not about parking policy or parking technology but more about establishing if there is a demand for it. And if there is, where is it located and in what quantities?

So what is Park & Ride?

A bus or a train never picks you from the front of your door. You have to reach a bus stop (or a train/metro station) to start your daily commute. Looking closely, a public transport journey from A to B is always made up of different parts, generally three.

A: Home ->Starting Bus Stop/Train Station->Ending Bus Stop/Train Station->B:Work Place

While the second leg of the journey is the one you travel sitting (or standing / hanging from the door) in the bus or the train, the first and the third legs are normally covered on foot.
But not always. Many a time, the first leg is covered by yet another public transport mode (many commuters in Mumbai reach their stations by bus). At other times, this leg is covered by private transport. You can be driven (or ride pillion) to the stop/ station. You can also drive (or ride) to the stop/ station.

These last two options (of driving or being driven) are important because they essentially increase the catchment area of a bus stop or a station beyond the limits of walking. You can do a 10 minute walk and reach a bus stop/ station 800m away. A ten minute drive can, at least, increase this outreach four times (3 – 4 km) or more. This is good because this way, we can milk an expensive public transport service to higher efficiency by making it available to more number of people. Let us take a closer look at each of these options.

Driven to the stop/station – Kiss & Ride

The phenomenon has a fancy name borrowed from the western transportation studies: “Kiss & Ride”. The name might be a tad inappropriate in our cultural setting but the phenomenon still exists. Who has not seen husbands dropping their working wives at the bus stop or parents driving their children to the school bus? While reasons could be many, the end effect is what we mentioned earlier – the catchment of a public transport stop stands expanded and public transport capacity is better utilised.

But what we see happening on our streets in the name of Kiss & Ride is wholly organic. Commuters devise their own arrangements and are not helped in any way by any transport planning intervention. The interventions to encourage such a behaviour mainly involves provision of lay-byes and/or short term parking which lets the driver of the private vehicle safely drop (or pick-up) the one being driven and transferring on to the public transport mode for his/her onward journey. By the term ‘short term’ parking, we mean a really short term (not more than 2-5 minutes) which does not encourage any long term hogging of the parking space.

Driving to the stop/ station – Park & Ride

In Park & Ride, a private transport vehicle (a personal car or a two wheeler) is used to access a stop/ station. The vehicle is parked, mostly all day long, at a parking facility which is either a part of the station precinct or in the vicinity of the station. The traveller continues his/her journey by the bus or the train available at the location after safely parking his/her vehicle. While returning from the destination, the vehicle is picked and used to travel back to the point where the trip originated, usually the home of the commuter.

There are some examples of organic, impromptu arrangements in bigger metropolitan cities like Mumbai but there are very few examples of successfully planned and organised Park & Ride schemes. Organic arrangements are more on the line of community based cooperation where a group of commuters, mostly two wheeler riders, hire a person (or a group of persons) to attend to their parked vehicles during the day for a nominal, monthly, remuneration.

The sites for such parking lots are mostly encroached government land. It is only recently that few examples exist of planned and organised parking facilities to encourage this kind of travel arrangements such as SATIS (Station Area Traffic Improvement Scheme) in Mumbai and station design for Metro Stations in Delhi. But in all these cases, the assessment of demand for parking at stations remains in isolation from the integrated transport planning for the total metropolitan area.

Planning for Park & Ride/ Kiss & Ride

There was no mention of Park & Ride in the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) released by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India in 2006. It did mention, however, provision of bicycle parking facilities at transport inter-changes.

Park & Ride facilities also did not find any mention when later, the same ministry collaborated with Asian Development Bank and commissioned a group of consultants to develop guidelines and toolkits for urban transport development in medium sized cities in India. While there was a module dedicated to the general issue of parking, there was no discussion of Park & Ride facilities and its role in facilitating higher public transport utilisation.

Planning for Park & Ride essentially involves provision of safe and secure parking facilities at the station location. This can be either integrated in the design of the station or included as part of the precinct area planning for a designated periphery around the station. In case of Kiss & Ride, the facilities include short term parking bays to help facilitate a quick hop-on/ hop-off of the passengers. Also important is a careful audit of the road network surrounding the parking location to ensure that it has enough capacity to facilitate evacuation of all parked vehicles in a short period of time. Finally, operational arrangements to run the parking facilities (parking contracts) are also important which not only ensure that the facility is financially sustainable but also that the quality of service is maintained at the benchmarked level.

Parking lot design for Park & Ride cannot afford to involve expensive technologies such as multi-storeyed parking lots or mechanised parking systems. Since the facilities are expected to be used by commuters near the home end, the usage is highly price sensitive. But there is ample scope to use information technology to enable higher use of such facilities. One such example is the prospective use of the smart card to pay for the parking usage. This is especially useful when such smart cards are integrated with those used to pay for the public transport fare. But the biggest cost component of such facility is always land. And to ensure that just the right amount of land is reserved for a Park & Ride facility, it is important that good estimate is available for the amount of parking spaces required. This estimate has to be accurate not only for the existing conditions but a good estimate of the future demand is also required. This is also important so that facilities built are maintained at a benchmarked level of service for a foreseeable future. And since this is the single most important issue determining the success of failure of a Park & Ride facility, this is what we discuss next.
Planning for Kiss & Ride is not very different as the provision of short term parking required to enable it, also depends on the correct assessment of demand.

How many spaces?

To know how big a parking lot will be required at a station, we need to know how many people will use the combination of private and public transport to reach their destination. And this is where there are some fundamental and methodological challenges. Before we try to understand the nature of demand of [private + public] transport, let us take a quick look at how the demand for exclusive private transport or exclusive public transport is assessed.

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