Shanghai car parks ... a space odyssey
Shanghai held a public consultation last month on a draft plan to relieve its chronic shortage of car parking spaces. But even if it is implemented, the plan is unlikely to be of much help.
The city government is considering ways to better use car parks in residential compounds after people drive their cars to work.
The draft suggests residential compounds should open up and lease their parking spaces to nearby office workers during the day - but the idea has not gone down well with residents.
Another suggestion would see vacant land turned into temporary, open-air car parks, but that has sparked concerns about how long such temporary car parks might last.
And anyway, Zhou Huai, deputy director of Shanghai's Transport and Port Administration Bureau, admitted during the consultation hearing that parking spaces would remain in short supply no matter what the authorities tried.
A slew of new data easily explains why. A survey by the city's traffic authorities showed Shanghai needs at least 367,000 extra parking spaces in the city centre, a 47 per cent rise.
Take the city's Minhang district as an example. The suburban area has 259,000 registered vehicles, eight times the number of parking spaces.
Shanghai's Statistics Bureau says there were 17 vehicles for every 100 households at the end of 2010, beating Hong Kong's 7.5, Tokyo's eight and Singapore's four.
The city introduced an auction system about two decades ago in an attempt to limit the growth in car numbers. Every year, it auctions about 100,000 vehicle licence plates, with the average price now 53,000 yuan (HK$65,200).
But the car plate policy seems to have done little to cool the Shanghainese love affair with cars.
If the new vehicles bought by Shanghainese in a single year were lined up end-to-end, they would stretch for 400 kilometres, more than the distance from Shanghai to Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province.
The city's car industry took off in the early 2000s when well-to-do Shanghai residents began to buy cars for household use. Officials would cheer every rise in sales as a buoyant car market was seen as a boost to the local economy.
Global giants General Motors and Volkswagen were among the top beneficiaries of the buying euphoria. But Shanghainese now have to live with two by-products of this spree - traffic jams and a lack of parking spaces.
It is not unusual for a local motorist to spend an extra hour driving around to find a parking space in the city centre. Illegal parking on the streets leads to a fine of 200 yuan, almost equal an average worker's daily salary, and car parks in the city centre charge between 10 yuan and 30 yuan an hour.
In some cases, the tensions sparked by the lack of car parking spaces have resulted in fatalities.
On September 15, a woman who collected fees at a car park in the Xuhui district was crushed to death by a car after she demanded 15 yuan in parking fees from its driver. He refused to stop and ran her over.
A year earlier, four people died in a brawl over parking fees at a neighbourhood in the Yangpu district, with drivers who refused to pay parking fees battling with car park staff.
It seems that Shanghai drivers will just have to get used to expensive car park fees and the interminable hunt for an inner-city parking space.