How often have you been looking for a safe place to park your car? If you are one of the unlucky ones who live or work in the Ruwi area, this is a depressing fact of life for you. Parking is becoming a big problem in the capital, and the problem is only getting worse.
I had the chance to catch up with Chris Steel, the Managing Partner of Savills Oman and asked him his opinion on the parking "situation" that is plaguing Muscat with a few questions.
Here's how it went...
1. Are you aware of any changes to Muscat Municipality planning regulations to increase parking requirements?
Yes, we understand that Muscat Municipality are very aware of the present situation and are actively seeking solutions to the problems. Clearly there is only so much they can do in the existing developed areas, particularly Ruwi and Qurum so we understand their current focus is finding ways to safeguard the newer developing areas from suffering the same fate.
2. What would you do to improve parking?
Really there is only one solution in a city that relies so much on the use of private cars, and that is to ensure that there are sufficient spaces for everyone to park in. I know this sounds rather simplistic but without a public transport system in Muscat, everyone is forced to rely on cars or taxis - and these require parking spaces. Dubai recognized this problem years ago and the metro has significantly reduced the pressure on car parking strain at the major shopping centres and offices. I have not seen any signs of a public transport system being developed in the short term so fear we have many years ahead of an increasingly difficult parking problem in Muscat!
3. To tow, or not to Tow, that is the question?
There is a school of thought that that this could work and would act as a real deterrent. However, it would only be as good as the towing operation itself. To succeed in Muscat it would have to be properly regulated and in ideal conditions run by the police/civil services and not outsourced to third parties. as is often the case in other countries. The inconvenience factor could work well in deterring people but a down side is the additional transport vehicles needed on the streets for the service - so perhaps a double edged sword?
4. How about clamping?
Questionable. Quite often here, cars will park in such a manner as to block others in. If they are clamped, it could only lead to more congestion. Not only that, clamping a vehicle would probably quickly become a source of entertainment for those around and the gathering of people in congested urban areas more often than not leads to a rubber necking situation for passing traffic – not the ideal outcome.
5. Paid reserved parking spots - is there an opportunity there?
To some extent but it does not solve the problem. If a space is reserved for a parker and that user is not there, it is a complete waste of available parking. How often have you passed certain offices or shopping malls with massively over flowing car parks yet there are two spaces barricaded off near the entrance marked “Chairman” or “Manager” sitting idle. The current Term parking option offered by the Municipality is probably the better option – allowing parkers to pay for use of spaces on a monthly or longer basis on a ‘subject to availability’ basis.
6. Private paid parking a la NPC style? (NPC is a pay-and-park company in the UK)
Definitely a way forward. Whilst there would likely be initial wariness (probably from the public and the authorities), I am sure that once parkers realized that paying for a space actually guaranteed a space, they would catch on. About a year ago we carried out a feasibility study on a vacant piece of land in the CBD, analysing its potential uses. Surprisingly, it showed that by building a multi storey car park, the overall investment returns were higher than those obtainable by building the same size office/apartment building. It is probably only time before developers realize the potential to be had from such operations.
7. Any new projects coming up that actually have sufficient parking?
Too few I am afraid. There is a growing developer awareness of the need for more car parking but mistakes are still being made. The larger projects – those currently under construction around the Airport and the Convention Centre for example all have sufficient land to accommodate increased parking requirements. It is these developments that will likely become the favored destinations in years to come. Those shopping areas where you simply cannot park after 6 pm or the offices that have only side street parking will ultimately fail. It is a normal process in the real estate cycle to some extent and these properties will ultimately be redeveloped to meet the requirement of their shoppers/workers.
8. Coming back to policing the issue, do you think increased parking fines would help?
Yes, probably. Oman has a very good system of ensuring all vehicle penalties are paid upon car re-registration every year. So (apart from the usual “negotiations”), all fines have to be settled regularly and cannot really be avoided. Current parking fines of around RO 3 are not much of a deterrent when compared to the average fine in say UK of between £25 and £150 depending on location. I am sure that many motorists are quite happy to pay this just to park at their destination. However, giving the benefit of doubt to the majority of offenders, they are probably only parking illegally because there are no legitimate spaces left to park in anyway ! So really its back to your earlier question. Without the alternative of a working public transport system for the population to get from a to b – it’s a problem that can only really be solved by providing more spaces to meet the needs of the motorists.
Which leads me onto the return of an old favourite of mine.... my Pointless Polls! What do you think should be done about the chronic lack of parking?