Pakistan’s motorisation rate – which is the number of passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants – stood at 17 in 2015. This is an estimate provided by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA). Assuming that the rate has remained the same over the last two years, this would mean that there are approximately 3,532,600 cars on the roads of this country.
With over 36 percent of the population living in urban centres, it is safe to assume that the bulk of these cars are also operating on the roads of the country’s main cities – Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.
For its part, Lahore has seen a spate of urban development projects, flyovers, metro lines and signal-free corridors. And while the jury is hung on the positive impact of these projects on the flow of traffic in the city, there is a pressing concern that remains unattended: parking and the utter lack thereof.
Go anywhere you like and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a suitable space to park your car. If indeed a dedicated parking area is available, it may already be overflowing with vehicles. The lack of parking spaces has resulted in the rise of private parking lots in empty plots across the city. But the demand clearly outnumbers the supply.
Providing parking is a triple-edged sword. The first challenge is to determine exactly how much space is required. The second is that limited space will impede growth. The third challenge is that too much space will reduce the land available for other economic purposes.
Any form of development in the city is governed by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), which has laid down clear regulations for parking within its building regulations. There is a minimum parking provision for all forms of construction – from farmhouses and apartment buildings to hotels, industrial buildings, warehouses and godowns. However, if we are to believe the engineers and architects, none of these regulations are followed. It is obvious that before any construction physically takes place, a plan has to be approved by the relevant authority – in this case, the LDA. We must ask how plans that are in clear violation of the LDA’s regulations are approved. On the other hand, let’s say that the plans presented to the LDA are correct. What measures are taken by the LDA to ensure that the actual construction is based on that plan and not something else? Apparently, they take action – but only against those they can.
The other direct outcome of the lack of parking spaces is encroachment. On nearly every street in the city, cars of all shapes and sizes are parked on the sides of the road and often take up an entire lane. There are vendors selling their wares and rickshaws, waiting for their next ride. Occasionally, we see traffic wardens with their lifters, picking up one car from a line of 100 encroachers. But more often than not, encroachments are par for the course. Some say this does not reflect the concerned department’s inefficiency, but just shows how the authorities deliberately turn a blind eye to the matter in lieu of cold hard cash.
Such encroachments take on unprecedented levels when it comes to schools and colleges. Again, the regulation laid down is very clear: “a separate lane for pick and drop purposes shall be provided within the plot outside the boundary wall by providing a 15 foot wide space within the set back area”.
But for the large number of schools that have cropped up on main roads and deep inside residential areas, this is not possible. What happens then is what happens every day: a fine mess. It’s also questionable why and how multiple schools have been allowed to open up next to each other – a surefire way of at least doubling the number of cars on the road twice a day.
So far, there is little action taken by the government on this matter. Instead, what they have done is to try and provide alternative means of commuting – be it the metro line or the red buses that dot Lahore’s urban landscape. And while both these two options are in use, what the government may have failed to consider is that if a person has a car, he or she will be inclined to use it. Owning a car is a status symbol.
Not everyone lives close to metro stations or bus stops. And for a large portion of the year, high temperatures ensure that the walk to the nearest pick-up point is, at the very least, uncomfortable if not downright treacherous. So those who can get into their own cars and make their merry way. Even options like Uber and Careem have failed to make a mentionable dent in the number of cars on the road.
As the number of cars on Lahore’s roads increases by the day and the city’s remaining aesthetics are eaten up by one new building after another, it would be prudent for those in charge to look at the institutional corruption that is responsible for the lack of sufficient parking spaces within the city.
The writer is a freelance journalist.