Like most people, Krishna Chander, 29, has had to talk himself out of visits to malls, fearing that he may not get parking on reaching there. A couple of times he even tried the old Indian trick of leaving his car in the nearby bylanes and hoping nothing happens, only to find that it had been towed away by the police.
Frustrated, he had begun to avoid malls and areas that he thought offered a slim chance of "easy parking" — more often than not, also the best places to shop — until he came across the Facebook page of uPark, India's first online parking network. Chennai-based uPark, founded in 2011 by Shyam Ramachandran and Rajesh Subramanian, allows customers to book parking slots ahead of their visits to shopping malls through online booking or a mobile phone application, helping them to plan better. "It has helped me big time.
I am able to find good parking slots at malls or in nearby places in advance," said Chander, a recruiter with a multinational in Chennai. "It is always better to pay .`300 for a good parking spot than paying a similar amount to a cop."
With about 130 million vehicles on its roads — and about 2.7 million cars being added each year— India's parking woes are only going to get worse, especially as there is no organised industry or policy framework in the country.
In fact, IBM's first-ever Parking Index — a ranking of the emotional and economic toll of parking in 20 international cities, released in 2011 — put New Delhi and Bangalore as the worst. "In India, we have very few multi-level parking lots," said Surabhi Arora, associate director of research at real estate consultancy firm Colliers International. "Generally, it's open parking lots that are provided by the local authorities.
India also has one of the lowest public parking rates in the world." uPark's Ramachandran, who is the company's chief executive, said the way out of the mess is better networking. All parking attendants at malls that have tied up with uPark are provided with a handheld device, which they use to feed in real-time data on availability.
"If it is full, we say don't come," said Ramachandran, 40, who is an alumnus of University of California, Los Angeles. "Save your time and money." He said uPark's research showed that on an average it takes about 30 minutes in traffic to find a parking spot, and could cost up to Rs 60.
Currently, uPark, which raised Rs1 crore as seed capital, does not charge customers for its services — it instead gets between Rs1 andRs2.50 from the malls for each car. Going forward, it plans to charge about Rs30 for each booking. It is also in the process of launching a single card that can be used to park cars across malls in a city. Globally, the parking industry is worth about $25 billion (Rs1.34 lakh crore), but has seen little innovation in the past few decades, leading to clogged roads and unhappy motorists.
Ramachandran said an internal survey done by his company across eight Indian cities revealed that 93% of the respondents wanted to know parking availability in advance and did not mind paying for it. Currently, uPark has joined hands with three of the leading malls in Chennai and are in discussions with many others across the country.
So far, about 2,50,000 vehicles have been booked through it. In the future, uPark is also hoping to bring together people with vacant lands near shopping destinations and customers who are willing to pay for a parking spot on such land. "We are talking to the Mumbai corporation and working with the Chennai corporation on its pedestrian project in T Nagar (India's biggest shopping locality) in association with Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and Chennai City Connect," said Subramanian, uPark's cofounder and chief operating officer. "We have suggested that all private operators should list their parking lots on our site."