Needed: Car-Use Policy For Cities
Cities in Pakistan cannot grow vertically due to height restrictions, which is why they expand horizontally – causing sprawls. The sprawls that encroach upon agricultural land need more cars for mobility thanks to poor public transport options.
As cities sprawl, the cost of moving to the workplace and to shop for necessities increases. Thus, height restrictions on one hand and easy access to cars and low operational cost of maintaining a car together contribute to sprawls, congestion, pollution and depleting agricultural land.
The provision of infrastructure like good roads, flyovers, underpasses, signal free corridors, overhead pedestrian bridges and free parking on public land encourages using cars. This infrastructure developed with taxpayers money is obviously not fully paid for by the car owners. Thus, cars are heavily subsidized in Pakistan and this subsidy is encouraging their use. The car-subsidy contributes to downsides like sprawls, congestion, pollution and loss of agricultural land.
The modern cities are fast realizing their ‘planning mistakes’ of expanding roads and shrinking public spaces. Therefore, many good cities are now converting streets and roads to public spaces. However, transportation planning in Pakistan revolves around facilitating cars.
To avoid the downsides of car use not only the implicit subsidy should be withdrawn but the car owners should also be made to pay for the congestion, pollution and parking. The following car use policy is recommended.
a) Congestion tolls need to be introduced for motorists on roads and city centers during peak hours. These must be complemented with efficient public transport.
b) The right amount of parking fee must be levied upon car-owners to retrieve the societal cost of owning a car. This shall earn revenue for the city and dis-incentivize car ownership.
c) City authorities must work with schools to ensure the usage of school or community buses rather than individual cars being used for pick-and-drop.
d) PIDE study on cars estimates that a city like Islamabad can generate Rs. 2.8 million per day if each car a meager flat rate of Rs. 10 as parking fee. Linking the fee parking time can increase revenue even further.
e) Incentivize ridesharing and pooled transport to curb car ownership.
An efficient public transport has the potential to reduce the number of cars. Cities like Seoul, London, New York, and Copenhagen are heavily investing in their public transport infrastructures to complement their goals. Public transport besides facilitating mobility has even contributed to reduced health expenditure thanks to reduction in the number of accidents.
The cars provide freedom of movement but this freedom should not come at a huge cost to the society. Land use policy, car policy and public transport policy should complement each other. Cities should be allowed to grow vertically and have mixed-use space – work, school, hospital, home and leisure in close proximity complemented by walking and cycling space. To avert losses due to cars the public also need to develop the healthy habits of walking and cycling. This would reduce the need for excessive vehicular mobility.
Use of ride-hailing services would also help reduce the need for cars. It is estimated that ride-hailing services can increase time-use per car from 9 per cent to 55 per cent. An efficient public transport coupled with congestion and parking charges for cars would help curb the car use further. The end result would be an inclusive city that has something for everyone: jobs, schools, leisure and livable environment.