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Vol. XXX No. 20, February 16-28, 2021

App revamps street-parking in Madras

by Padmaja Jayaraman

Parking attender wearing reflective jacket assists car-parking in Pondy Bazaar.

Taking a step towards sustainable parking management in the city, the Greater Chennai Corporation launched the GCC Smart Parking app on January 1 this year. A Smart City project initiative, the app manages 9,200 functional parking spaces across the city. Its service is available for citizens between 8am and 11pm every day. Through the app, users can check the availability of parking spaces at desired locations real-time and also block a slot beforehand.

To use the GCC Smart Parking App, one has to ‘sign up’ as a ‘new user’ by providing basic details like mobile number, mail id, address, vehicle type and vehicle number. To book a parking slot, the user selects the ‘My bookings’ option where he/she chooses the desired location and the vehicle type (car or two-wheeler). A parking slot will then be allocated. On reaching the location, payment can be made with the help of the attender. “If a person is not comfortable with e-payment, he/she can give cash, and the attender will pay via digital mode to GCC,” clarifies the project head. On exceeding one hour, the app will automatically send a notification to the user’s mobile. The duration of the booking can be extended if needed.

The parking charges have been fixed at Rs. 5 per hour for two-wheelers and Rs. 20 per hour for four-wheelers, irrespective of peak hour activity. “The [parking] charges will remain the same irrespective of the increase in demand,” explains the project head in charge of the initiative. The Hindu has also reported that if users find no available slots in their desired area, the app will suggest parking slots available in inner streets – the user will have to park and walk to their destination. According to the app’s official website, users who cancel their booking will receive a full refund.

Apart from facilitating the pre-booking of parking spaces, the app also helps prevent parking violations and other suspicious activities. An AI (artificial intelligence) camera has been installed for every 15-20 parking slots. According to the official website, the camera-based system is enabled to scan license plates of vehicles. Officers can instantly locate violators if any and check for vehicle permits using their mobile enforcement devices, thus saving the time that is spent physically patrolling. To issue a ticket, officers can quickly auto-populate the information by marking the license plate with associated violations. Citations will be synced in real-time. Thus, city administrations can instantaneously access the citation information.

The app-based parking system has been implemented in many areas including Besant Nagar, Purasawalkam, Nungambakkam and Anna Nagar. Premium parking is available in Khader Nawaz Khan Road, carrying a charge of Rs. 40 per hour for cars. “Premium parking would be introduced in industrial and trade areas with more road traffic. Hence, there is a greater charge for parking,” explains the project head.

In T Nagar, on-street parking is to be complemented by a six-storeyed multi-level carpark facility at the junction of Theagaraya Road and Thanikachalam Road. The latter will be put to use soon, says the project head. It can house around 500 two-wheelers and 200 cars. Users would have to pay Rs. 40 per hour for cars, and Rs. 20 per hour for two-wheelers to park inside the multi-level complex.

Though the project has the potential to facilitate efficient parking, decongest roads and reduce traffic in the city, the app has not seen widespread adoption yet. “Only 11,000 people have installed the app currently, which is not even ten percent of the city’s population,” says the project head. While the GCC needs to take the necessary steps to improve awareness about the app, there is also scope to address some issues faced by the users. “The attender asked my phone number to send me the invoice for parking charges. I don’t want to share my number like this though. This is not really safe. Do we have to share our number every time we park, to the attender? If it is misused, then it will be a nightmare,” says a 41-year old resident of Alandur who visited Besant Nagar in the first week of January.

Responding to the privacy concern, the project head explains, “If you do not wish to share your personal phone number, then you are allowed to give someone else’s phone number. The phone number is needed just to send an invoice.” It may be worthwhile to consider offering hesitant users the alternative of a printed invoice, in such cases.

The project head reveals that the smart parking system generates Rs. 1 to Rs. 1.5 lakhs per day – for instance, it brought in Rs. 30 lakhs in the month of January alone. It is worth noting that the purpose of the paid-parking system is to encourage people to use public transport. Issuing on-street parking charges must go hand-in-hand with introducing more buses, local and metro trains; establishing new routes for better connectivity; and decreasing the ticket prices for public transport. In other words, one feels that the revenue generated from managed parking can be effectively channeled to improve public transport.

Speaking to the future of the app, the project head says, “Just like ordering food, or booking a taxi via an app, people must be empowered to book their parking slot on the city’s roads, instead of going on a random wild goose chase for an empty space. Usage of the app to achieve smart parking will be encouraged, but not forced.”

If this initiative is implemented effectively throughout the city, commuting will undoubtedly be smoother. Given that the system also aims to help scale down private transport, the city could benefit from lesser air pollution from vehicle emissions too, in the long run. One hopes that the new initiative helps Chennai become a greener, cleaner metropolis.

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