SCMP Monday, November 6, 2000


Let public buildings solve car parking problems

Ever tried circling some of the more congested areas of Hong Kong trying to find a legal place to park? It can be a frustrating business, made more enraging when you know there are empty parking spaces nearby.
Government planners traditionally take great care to look after their own - purpose-built departmental offices are always generously provided with car parks.
But what about the public? We ultimately foot the bill and it is highly irritating looking for a rare slot on weekends when you know nearby government offices, public buildings after all, have ample space.
This is being remedied. The Government Property Agency is extending an imaginative programme that throws open civil service parking to the public in the evenings, at weekends and during public holidays.
The Director of Audit need have no fears - we're not getting something for nothing. People are charged market rates for parking.
Albert Lai Kwok-ying, the Government Property Administrator, says renting out parking space in government buildings started in 1989. Many motorists don't know about it.
There are nine strategically located government blocks where vacant car parking is now open for all at weekends and sometimes at night. Operators tender for the right to run them. For instance, Murray Building, in Garden Road, has 87 open car parking bays leased out, netting $52,667 a month. Similar schemes operating in Yuen Long, Chai Wan, Cheung Sha Wan, North Point and in such prominent government premises as Immigration Tower in Wan Chai and Central Government Offices in Lower Albert Road.
It started with Queensway Government Offices a decade ago, when Pacific Place opened next door. The Government rents out 169 car parking slots and 36 motorcycle parking slots there for $218,000 or 60 per cent of the gross monthly receipts, whichever is the greater. In total, 1,184 parking spaces are made available with set rents of more than $1 million.
This is a win-win situation, a rare phenomenon. The Government wins, collecting a sizeable windfall of otherwise ignored revenue. The Pacific Place merchants win, greeting a sizeable increase in customers. The civil servants win, running a common-sense scheme that benefits the community. Most importantly, the public wins with the convenience of finding parking spaces in handy situations.
Mr Lai charges operators from $30,000 to $300,000 monthly, depending on location and size.
One problem is that where parking problems are most acute, there is frequently a lack of government offices. Take Tai Wai, an area with sparse off-street public parking and where at least 50 per cent of metered parking is greedily monopolised by illegal garages and car-repair businesses.
There are no sizeable government offices there. So why not take this welcome government initiative further? It seems to me logical that other institutions follow the Government's nicely tuned entrepreneurial bent.
In places like Tai Wai and other areas short of weekend parking, schools and other institutions could well do a public service and at the same time boost their income.
Mr Lai says the administration intends to extend the policy, as long as there are sufficient spaces to support viable commercial use. Of course, normal operations take precedent and it's obvious that places like police and fire stations could not be used.
The public supports the idea. Chow Chun-fai, chairman of Yau Tsim Mong District Council says weekend use of government car parking in Yau Ma Tei is very popular, in an area notorious for lack of public parking. I agree. It's common sense and a helpful idea. Let's extend it.
Kevin Sinclair ( ) is a Hong Kong-based journalist.