Got the Car. Now Where to Park?

Taipei City is building "smart" parking garages that will accommodate more cars and motorcycles, be energy efficient, and provide features to help drivers locate their vehicles. (Photo: TCPMD)
Taipei City is building "smart" parking garages that will accommodate more cars and motorcycles, be energy efficient, and provide features to help drivers locate their vehicles. (Photo: TCPMD)

The Taipei city government is trying a number of different methods to relieve the chronic parking problem.

Given the serious shortage of parking spaces that has contributed to chronic traffic chaos, the Taipei city government has been striving to expand the number of parking lots, while also increasing the utilization efficiency of existing facilities and reducing demand, mainly by making mass transportation more convenient.

Perhaps the most telling indication of the severity of the parking-space problem is the volume of parking infractions. In 2015, fines were imposed for 827,054 parking violations in Taipei, a whopping increase of 80,000 over 2014. The NT$1.75 billion (US$55.5 million) in traffic fines collected last year was NT$270 million more than in the previous year. Motorists parking by curbs painted red risk an NT$900 fine, compared with NT$600 for motorcycles,

In an effort to improve traffic flow, the city government has increased the total length of such no-parking zones by 70 kilometers since mayor Ko Wen-je took office in 2014. But drivers have often disregarded the rules, largely because of the difficulty of finding a legal place to park in the neighborhood, a reflection of the gross imbalance between supply and demand for parking space in the city. Even government agencies have been affected by the crackdown. Official vehicles received 1,177 tickets for parking violations in 2015, 30% more than in 2014.

Currently, Taipei has a total of 715,000 parking spaces for automobiles, including 526,000 within residential or commercial buildings, 90,000 in privately operated parking lots, 51,000 in public parking facilities, and 48,000 by the roadside. In comparison, there are 770,000 registered cars and small trucks in the city, with only 59% of the owners having their own parking spaces. In addition, many people in neighboring areas, including New Taipei City, Keelung, and Taoyuan, drive into Taipei for work every day, further straining the supply of parking spaces. There are a total of 1.6 million autos in Greater Taipei, including Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung,

One of the most congested areas in terms of both traffic conditions and parking is Taipei’s Neihu District, where some 200,000 commuters enter on a daily basis, usually in their own cars and with many heading for work in the Neihu Technology Park. The situation is also extremely serious in older sections of the city, such as the Wanhua, Datong, and Shilin districts, where many buildings lack their own parking garages. In some communities, the scarcity has sparked a scramble for access to public parking spaces available for rent. In the Lanya li neighborhood in Shilin’s Tianmu, for instance, local citizens line up throughout the night on the 25th of every month, usually bringing folding chairs and covering themselves with overcoats and blankets during late fall and winter, for the right to buy tickets – valid for one month – to use the 100-plus spaces in nearby public parking lots. Local residents can enjoy a 30% discount.

The serious imbalance between supply and demand has also driven the cost of parking spaces in the city to sky-high levels, unaffected by the current downturn in the realty market. Taipei Department of Land Administration statistics show that per ping (one ping equals 36 square feet), the cost of buying a parking space is three to four times that of housing (although the cost for space with a mechanical parking system tends to be 60% lower). The going rate to purchase a parking space is NT$1.8 million in the Wenshan District, NT$2.53 million in Zhongshan, and NT$3.23 million in Daan, while a space with a mechanical system would cost NT$1.16 million in Wenshan, NT$1.75 million in Songshan, and NT$1.72 million in Daan.

Over the past two years when housing prices in Taipei have tumbled 10% on average, parking-space prices have still jumped 6%.

Creating more parking

In order to alleviate the parking shortage, the city government has been encouraging agencies and schools under its jurisdiction to open up their parking lots for use by citizens at night. So far, 101 such offices and 66 schools have done so, creating 25,057 parking spaces for part-time use by outsiders. The number is expected to increase by 1,183 by the end of this year, as 43 more agencies and schools join the ranks.

In addition to constructing new parking lots, the city government has been rebuilding some existing public facilities to expand their capacities. An example is the parking tower on Bade Road near the Raohe tourism night market, which is undergoing reconstruction after being dismantled in March 2015. Scheduled for reopening in 2017, the new green and “smart” parking tower will be 10 stories above ground, plus one basement, offering 698 parking spaces: 311 for autos and 387 for motorcycles. The interior will be illuminated by natural daylight, and the building will be equipped with a smart parking system enabling car owners to locate their cars quickly. The original parking power, in use for 24 years, was an APS (automated parking system) facility, capable of accommodating 414 cars but not many motorcycles.
The city government has also been endeavoring to make the operation of the public parking facilities more efficient by privatizing the management and embracing smart applications. The Taipei City Parking Management and Development Office (TCPMD) has farmed out 200 of the 290 parking lots under its jurisdiction (some public parking lots are not under its jurisdiction, such as those affiliated with sports facilities owned by the city government) to private management, mainly for the sake of efficiency as well as the insufficiency of its own manpower. It plans to turn over 13 more public parking lots to private management in the next two year.
In addition, TCPMD launched a third-party parking-fee payment service in November 2015, accessible to citizens who download either of two apps onto their smartphones. Users can then simply use their smartphones to scan the codes on parking-fee receipts at public parking facilities and the fees will then be automatically billed to their credit-card accounts at a 5% discount. The city government benefits even more by avoiding the NT$3.76 commission per receipt it pays to convenience stores, currently the most common channel for parking-fee payments. In 2015, TCPMD paid NT$94 million in such commissions, amounting to 6.7% of its total parking-income of NT$1.4 billion. As of the end of September 2016, over 710,000 parking bills had been paid via the new method.

Moreover, TCPMD plans to convert public parking lots into smart ones, capable of automatic parking-fee billing by utilizing the existing e-tag system for freeway toll collection. Through their smartphones, users will be able to check the balance due for parking or inquire about available parking sites. The city’s goal is to have 81 such smart public parking lots in operation by 2019.

The Taipei government’s main effort, however, is to promote mass transportation so as to reduce the number of cars on the road and thus the need for parking spaces. Despite the city’s MRT network of five lines with a total length of 131kilometers, as well as a comprehensive public bus system, only 37.4% of citizens regularly used mass transportation in 2015, with 42% still relying mainly on their own cars and motorcycles for transport. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of registered autos in the city increased by 73,700.

To ease the chronic rush-hour traffic jams in Neihu, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) recently launched two express bus routes from the Xizhi and Banqiao districts of New Taipei City to the Qiannan station of the Wenhu MRT line in Neihu, in hopes of weaning away commuters from doing their own driving. The Xizhi-Neihu express bus, No. 955, for instance, takes 60 minutes during rush hours and 50 minutes at other times to traverse its 17.8-km route – a saving of 15 to 20 minutes for most commuters. A third express bus, from Tamsui to Qiannan station, will be kicked off soon.

In addition, to encourage more commuters to take the Wenhu MRT line, free shuttle bus service has been made available from the Xihu and Gangqian stations to the Neihu Technology Park.

The DOT also plans to further popularize the use of bikes as a transportation means.
Currently, 7,495 “YouBikes” are available in Taipei at 229 stations, averaging 500 meters apart in distance. The DOT plans to increase the number of stations by 50 to 60 per year, reaching 300 by the end of 2016 and 400 by the end of 2018. The goal to have citizens walk no more than 350 meters, or five to 10 minutes, before reaching a station for renting the public bikes.

In the same vein, the city government has constructed a bike-lane network consisting of three horizontal (east-west) lanes, along RenAi Road, XinYi Road, and NanJing East and West Road, and three vertical lanes, along ZhongShan N. Road, SongJiang Road, and FuXing North and South Road, with total length of 84 kilometers, in the center of Taipei.

The city government is also seeking to collect parking fees for all roadside parking spaces, including those inside residential communities, so as to boost the turnover rate and eliminate the long-time occupation of spaces by car owners. The city government’s ultimate goal is to require citizens to have their own parking spaces before buying a car, but that objective can be reached only after urban renewable projects replace old buildings with new ones equipped with parking facilities. The long-term goal is to cut car ownership in the city by 20%.