Get parking first,then buy the car

It is not just the roads that are getting ever-more congested here, it is the parking lots too.

More and more motorists are complaining about not being able to park close to their homes, or perhaps not finding a legal parking place at all. It is not really a surprise, since “HDB estimates that about 10 per cent of its carparks do not have enough spaces for residents nearby”, according to a ChannelNewsAsia report in August.

The fact that more than 34,000 people here own at least two cars only exacerbates the problem.

In one of the latest developments, Today reported this month that finding parking has become so difficult that “a private estate is being turned into a battleground” and car owners along Gerald Drive have had their cars vandalised.

A solution may actually be more straightforward than one would think. In some other cities, parking comes first. Before motorists are allowed to purchase a car, they must show where they’re going to park it. Setting up a similar system here might start to solve the parking woes.

As one example of how such a system could work: Anyone planning to buy a car in Japan must provide a chushajo shomeisho – proof of parking form – to their local police department, showing that they have a parking space within 2km of their residence.

Whether it is a space at their own home or a car park space they have rented, they also have to draw a map showing where it is. Some residents end up spending hundreds of dollars a month to rent a parking space if they do not have one at home. Only when they provide proof of parking can they buy a car. Other cities and states have begun to follow suit.

In India, the governments in the states of Sikkim and Mizoram recently began to require parking before residents are permitted to buy a car. According to The Telegraph, the Sikkim transport department issued a notice in July “making it mandatory for buyers to produce an availability-of-parking-space certificate before they can get their vehicles registered”.

After the government in Mizoram did the same, the Times of India declared that such a move “needs to be replicated all over the country”.

In the Philippines, Representative Narcisco Santiago proposed Bill earlier this year to require car owners to prove that they have a legal parking space.

“People should be disciplined enough to be able to furnish their vehicles with the appropriate parking space inside their own lots,” Santiago told the Manila Times and “it’s ‘common sense’ that a person who can afford to buy a car or two is presumed to be financially able to provide a permanent parking space for his vehicles.”

While the congestion on the roads here is a problem that would still need to be resolved, such a policy could begin to solve the parking dilemma at least and make sure roads remain passable to drivers.

And given Japan’s experience, it might help ease those traffic jams too. Professor Paul Barter, a transport policy expert with the National University of Singapore, said it was “likely that the policy slowed the growth of car ownership in Japan’s cities”. Here, it could work in combination with vehicle quotas and the ERP system to control the car population. Of course, before the must-have-parking regulation comes into play, some changes may have to be made in HDB estate car parks.

The current system of season-parking passes – issued to vehicle owners for use in specific car parks – could serve as the proof needed for a car purchase.

However, if the policy is to have the intended effect, more season parking-only lots may have to be dedicated out of the existing lots, so that residents are allocated guaranteed spaces.

On the one hand, this would benefit HDB residents, including current season-parking pass holders, who complain about being squeezed out of parking space by visitors or other non-residents using the car parks. On the other hand, more space might have to be found for visitors’ parking.

With tensions surfacing over minor parking wars, finding a solution soon seems imperative. Requiring would-be car-owners to have a car park space first could help improve the situation.

By Richard Hartung, a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.