Solving our Parking Woes

Jordan’s chaotic free-for-all parking can’t continue. It’s time to clean up the mess, reclaim our streets, and regulate parking on and off the road.

By Hazem Zureiqat

No Parking sign

Looking outside my office window every morning, I see the most bizarre uses of road space: cars that aren’t only double or triple-parked, but also quadruple-parked (if that’s even a term). Some drivers somehow manage to park perpendicular to the sidewalk when all other cars are parallel to it. This often crowded part of Jabal Al-Luweibdeh houses several public offices that are frequented by many visitors. Parking here is chaotic, and the traffic police are often nowhere to be seen.

What I describe has become commonplace all over Amman and even in other Jordanian cities. With the number of cars on the rise (8-10 percent annual growth in Amman), parking has become in short supply during peak periods. Lax enforcement has exacerbated the problem in certain areas, where people seem to prefer closing off a traffic lane to parking 200 meters away and walking to their destination. Add to that the valet parking ‘mafias’ that have claimed long stretches of our public roads for use by their respective clients.

Organizing parking in Jordan involves three key pillars, all of which must be addressed jointly:

  1. Economics: In last month’s column, I noted the provision of free parking was in effect a form of subsidy for using the private car, which further discourages people from using public transport. The distortions that result from providing free parking were highlighted by economist Donald Shoup in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. He compared free parking to providing free gasoline. The latter would induce more driving, create shortages, and be costly for governments. The same, he argued, applies for free parking. With that in mind, paying for parking shouldn’t be viewed as a means for government to collect more revenues but rather as a way to organize the scarce resource that is the parking space. Any pricing scheme that’s implemented in Jordan must be sensitive to our local context. Pricing can be used to trigger behavioral changes, potentially making people travel at different times, share rides, or walk further to get to their destinations. Pricing structures should distinguish between commercial areas with a high parking turnover, such as downtown Amman and Sweifieh, and other commercial districts. A similar distinction should also be made between on-street and off-street parking, where the latter is often used for longer periods of time. Implementing paid parking, which is happening in Amman very soon, comes with an important caveat: It can never be truly effective without a more balanced, multimodal mobility system, where there are viable public transport alternatives and walkable sidewalks. Overcharging for parking when there’s no alternative transport mode to use can be bad for the economy.
  1. Technology: Modern technology can serve as an effective tool in organizing parking. In addition to new payment methods (which would be needed if parking pricing were implemented), smartphone-based technology can be used to help people find parking. Limiting the time it takes to drive around in search for parking—or cruise for parking, as this is often called—can have immense benefits in reducing congestion and fuel consumption.
  1. Enforcement: No pricing scheme or technology can succeed without proper enforcement. There are already examples in Jordan of parking projects carried out jointly between the public and private sectors that have failed partly due to lax enforcement. Cleaning up streets and organizing public spaces through parking regulations may be important for municipalities, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the traffic police to monitor parking violations. Priorities between these different entities may not necessarily be aligned. We need tougher enforcement. If this is hard to achieve with the current institutional and legal setup, we should consider alternatives, such as decriminalized parking enforcement. This term was coined in the UK in the early 1990s and essentially means that parking enforcement can be carried out by civil or local authorities or even a private firm acting on their behalf. Implementing this in Jordan can be promising but will undoubtedly come at a high political cost.