Parking worries in HDB’s and the CBD

For many car-owners, the biggest hassle after traffic jams is finding a parking spot – and preferably one that doesn’t empty your wallet. Residents and non-residents alike find HDB car parks the perfect solution. Or they did – nowadays there is less and less space available.

(Car ownership has steadily risen over the last few years. Image courtesy of STB.)

The reason for this is simple. Car ownership has risen steadily – some would say inexorably – over the past few years, far outpacing the number of new car park spaces in HDB buildings. In 2005, there were 539,800 HDB car spaces, which rose to 557,000 as of this June; constituting a 3.2% rise. But during that same period, car ownership in HDB households increased by 26.3%. The ranks of households with more than one car swelled even more, by 76.5%. As for the take-up rate for season parking, it has risen to 80% today, compared to 57% in 2005.

Measures are currently being taken to ease demand and create a supply of new available parking spaces. New multistorey car parks are being planned and built, and households with their first car are being prioritised for season tickets.

The Housing Board is also making more use of electronic parking, particularly in high-demand areas near malls. There is currently electronic parking in 189 car parks, with plans to increase that number to 300. They have also revoked free parking on Sunday and public holidays in certain car parks, as well as prohibiting night parking for visitors in busy car parks. Where night parking will remain, visitors will now have to pay a charge of $4.

Where the amount of new spaces is concerned, HDB will be adding 1,800 spots this year. While some wonder at this expansion amounting to less than 1%, there are theories that the cautious growth is due to past events.

In 2005, foreseeing rapid expansion in car ownership, the Housing Board drastically increased the number of parking spaces. So much so, in fact, that the number of spaces in HDB estates was larger than the total number of cars in the country. At the time, the Auditor-General questioned these expansive measures.

The pressure on space in a continually developing Singapore poses a challenge to the Housing Board. Speaking on the issue, a spokesman said “As land is limited, it is not tenable to keep adding car parks indefinitely. HDB needs to balance the needs of other residents and safeguard land for other uses, such as precinct facilities and recreational areas.”

The parking problem has also received attention in other areas of Singapore. Assistant Professor Paul Barter, who has recently concluded a study on parking issues in Asian cities, has suggested a revamp of parking spaces in the Central Business District here.

Barter argues that by decreasing the number of parking spots in the area, and making available ones more expensive, the CBD can be made less congested, especially for public transport.

Tight limitations on parking is used to effect in Western cities, notes Barter, pushing commuters to use public buses or subways. But, he adds, the cost of parking here is still too low to incentivise people to make use of the transport infrastructure.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Professor Barter explains, “Even a doubling of CBD parking prices would not be outrageous by international standards. Even at $600 per month, it would still be cheaper than in many comparable cities such as London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.” He adds that season parking charges in Singapore’s CBD are not comparable to the value of the real-market the car parks sit on.