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Driving into China's parking mess
Eager for some fine food, Colin Lee, a public relations (PR) executive, recently went to a Vietnamese restaurant with friends.
Their experience, however, got off to a horrible start when they could not find a place to park.
"It always happens, no matter what I am doing! It is quite different from the situation abroad!" said Lee, who worked in numerous countries over the past decade.
"Addressing the parking situation is crucial for the development of cities. I cannot bear the mess any more."
The problem of which Lee speaks is becoming a daily occurrance for virtually every motorist in China's large and medium-sized cities. The conflict -- the increasing number of cars versus the lack of parking places -- is severe.
But what can be done? Experts suggest parking in China must be industrialized; in other words, parking facilities must be constructed and operated by businesses.
Due to improved living standards, falling vehicle prices and China's bulging, "new white-collar" segment of the population, an increasing number of urban Chinese now own personal vehicles.
National Bureau of Statistics figures indicate China's output of automobiles will rank No 3 -- behind the United States and Japan -- in the world by next year.
Output of automobiles in China is expected to exceed 10 million units by 2010.
Many of China's large cities are coping with parking-related issues.
Statistics indicate there are nearly 2.02 million motor vehicles registered in Beijing, and that figure is expected to reach 5 million by 2008. Those figures do not take into account the number of vehicles in Beijing from other provinces, cities and counties.
However, there are only public 600,000 parking places in downtown Beijing, indicates www.people.com.cn.
The parking lot at Cuiwei shopping mall, for example, can accommodate a mere 100 vehicles.
But during an average day, up to 1,000 vehicles might park in the lot, a manager of the mall said.
In Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, there are more than 500,000 vehicles.
The municipality, meanwhile, has a meager public 528 parking lots in sowntown, with a combined 38,000 parking spaces.
In China's developed cities, such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai, public parking places are sorely needed. The ratio of vehicles to the number of parking places is about 5:1, indicate China Heavy Machinery Association's data.
"City parking is an industry, not an administrative task of the government," said Jia Xinguang, a senior analyst with the Beijing-based Automobile Industry Research Centre.
As part of the public facilities in a city, parking should be combined with the city's development and regulation, the expert said.
"If a city wants to operate smoothly, it needs necessary facilities, which include parking facilities," Jia added.
At present, however, parking lot construction in China is managed by local governments' communications departments.
Every transportation department has its own administrative area, and that is preventing the industrialization of parking in China.
However, the local governments still don't pay enough attention to the issue.
"The government often focuses on the dynamic transportation, or traffic rules, but ignore the static transportation, or parking" said Ren Bomiao, director of the China Heavy Machinery Association's Parking Facility Committee.
Many parking lots belong to certain property developments. That is not the case in developed countries, which have flourish, and systematic, parking industries.
Experts note the problem will be compounded in future, especially as the population grows and the number of vehicles increases. If that happens, space will become limited in cities, but parking lots should not occupy residential areas and streets.
Industrialization of parking is one possible solution, Jia said.
"Developed countries and regions provide some very good examples."
Japan, which has one-tenth of China's population, but only 4 per cent of China's land area, has successfully dealt with its parking problem.
"First, Japan included parking in city planning; second, parking has been industrialized; third, Japan has developed its own parking facility equipment," Jia said.
To achieve industrialization in parking, experts suggest three solutions: Improving relevant legislation, tougher administration and development of multiple-level, above ground parking facilities.
In fact, municipal governments in China are taking steps to combine parking with their city infrastructure programmes.
At present, many big cities in China have their own plans focusing on parking lot construction.
In Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, the city planning bureau of the local government has worked out a blueprint to set up 95 public parking lots next year. Those lots will have a combined 20,265 parking spaces.
By 2010, Guangzhou will have built an additional 118 parking lots, with a combined 16,680 parking spaces.
The three-dimensional equipment, or multiple-level, above parking garages, is supposed to be the first choice.
Hangzhou's planning bureau has planned its overall arrangement of parking lots in the city's centre.
According to the regulation, in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province, there will be 37 parking lots in the city's centre by 2010.
Beijing, by 2010, plans to solve its parking lot crisis. All legally registered motor vehicles will be required to have their own parking spaces.
Market behaviour has freedom to operate, but it still requires government regulation, especially support from legislation, industry experts said.
In Beijing, there are several existing rules regarding parking, such as the Regulations on the Administration of Motor Vehicles Parking on Streets, Regulations on the Administration of Public Parking of Vehicles in Beijing, Regulations on the Administration of Public Parking of Non-motor Vehicles in Beijing.
Liu Xiaoming, deputy director of Beijing's municipal committee of communications, was recently quoted by Beijing Times as saying to carry out the spirit of the Beijing Transportation Development Programme, the capital will enact the Beijing parking regulation this year.
Moreover, projects that Beijing's municipal government scheduled to amend this year include the provision on standards of construction of vehicles parking facilities, which was drafted by the municipal road administration.
Experts suggest there is another problem: Parking fees. Beijing enacted a parking-fee standard in May. However, many parking lots still follow the former standard.
Under the new standard, people must pay 1 yuan (12 US cents) per half hour to park -- small vehicles only -- within the Fourth Ring Road.
"But, when I drive into many parking lots, they charge me 2 yuan (24 US cents) according to the old standard," said Wang Xin, who bought his Chery last month.
Said Jia: "Fixing such issues will take time."
Many experts insist the development of multiple-level and above ground parking garage is a must.
Such facilities are commonly used in developed countries, and they are applicable in China.
They have one big advantage: They save space. Generally, such facilities require about one-25th the amount of space for a ground parking lot.
Moreover, multiple-level and above ground parking equipment is cost-effective, and convenient.
Such facilities are highly secure, and improve cities' living conditions.
The parking industries in some developed countries and regions have become profitable, and are earning hundreds of thousands, or more, US dollars a year.
In Japan, the parking industry began in 1991. Many businesses paid great attention and began investing in the sector. Statistics indicate Japan's parking sector is worth about US$7.7 billion (115 billion yen).
The intelligent parking system developed by CARTEC and SPK in Japan not only generates fat sales in Japan, but also has become involved in some parking projects in Shanghai.
In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the price of a parking space is much more than that of a sedan. Taking Huijing Huayuan for example, a parking place is priced at HK$600,000 (US$76,923).
In the United States, the parking industry is worth about US$26 billion per year, and the sector creates about 1 million jobs.
When Thailand was suffering from the region's financial crisis in 1998, investors transformed surplus apartments into parking garages. They recovered their investments very quickly, and the stagnant real estate market eventually reignited.
Parking facilities in China are still a fairly new concept. The first multiple-level and above ground garage didn't appear until 1989.
In the past 10 years, China's parking facility industry has developed at an astonishing rate. Before 1997, not many people had heard about a mechanical parking house.
But in 1997-99, the device became more commonplace.
As more people own and drive personal vehicles, it is crucial that China regulate, construct, manage and develop adequate parking facilities, experts said.
[The author Yu Liang is a research assistant at the Centre of International Communication Studies of Tsinghua University]