As Phnom Penh’s skyline creeps upwards, the city’s roads have become bottlenecks clogged with cars. With a lack of urban planning and the implementation of traffic regulations, private sector developers have been left to their own devices when designing projects to make up for the deficiency of parking space. While developers used to turn a blind eye to parking, some are now seeing that it is an asset that works in their favour.
Though it is difficult to calculate the current level of parkable space in the city—which usually includes sidewalks—the need for more space is beyond doubt.
According to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, more than 320,000 vehicles were registered in 2014, an increase of 14 per cent from the previous year, among which, 283,977 are motorbikes and 39,531 are cars and trucks, both increasing by 15.9 and 6.3 per cent respectively.
Cambodia’s latest Socio-Economic Survey 2014, that was published earlier this month by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS), measured that 20 per cent of Phnom Penh’s 369,000 households owned one or more cars, totaling to 73,800 households.
Five years earlier, of the 251,100 households living in Phnom Penh, 50,200 owned at least one car.
This 8 per cent average annual growth of households settling, as well as owning cars in Phnom Penh only represents private ownership not used for commercial purposes.
While the country remained home to more than 2.7 million vehicles at the end of 2014, according to government data, there has not been a proper survey to predict future demand of parking spaces.
Regardless, David Knight, general manager of Australian based Secure Parking Ltd., which set up and manages the parking system at Aeon mall, believes a simple observation is as telling as statistical information. “It is very difficult to walk on footpaths as they are parked with cars. If you have to get rid of that, you have to put the cars somewhere else.”
Fast economic development at the cost of living standards
According to Rami Sharaf, CEO of World Bridge International and also the ex-chairman of Cambodia Automotive Industry Federation, every year, 40,000 new cars on average are added to the country’s road, which is already resulting in longer traffic jams and parking problems. Sharaf noted that parking issues are particularly acute in concentrated developed parts of the city like BKK1 and around major markets.
The increase in the number of automotives can be considered a sign of Phnom Penh’s rapid urbanisation, according to Silas Everett, country representative for The Asia Foundation.
Comparing the Kingdom with some of the most congested cities in South East Asia, such as Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok, Everett said: “Phnom Penh is not yet at a debilitating level of traffic, but the rate of traffic growth driven by improving economic conditions and the number of personal vehicles being purchased, the growth of the urban population and the lack of viable widespread transportation alternatives could quickly see the problem spiral out of control.”
“Urbanisation can bring people closer to jobs, services and new ideas, but increased population density is not a guarantee that these benefits will be found,” said Everett. “Without proper planning, urbanization can actually lower the standard of living for residents.”
If the problem of parking is not addressed, Everett said cars will continue to envelop the little sidewalk space there is, thus restricting safe pedestrian movements or leading to double parking. Both would result in more congestion and more pollution, lowering the overall quality of life for residents.
Government solutions for parking problems?
Long Dimache, City Hall Spokesman, told Post Property yesterday that “for 2015, we estimate the number of cars in capital to have reached 400,000 and over one million motorbikes, and it keeps increasing.”
Facing up to these challenges, Phnom Penh City Hall is acknowledging the infrastructure problem and seems to be seeking ways towards a solution, according to Dimache.
“In some of our projects we [could] turn some public parks and median strips, sidewalks, and shoulder-roads into parking spaces,” Dimanche said, adding that some streets would turn into one-ways to allow parking space to be created.
Other than finding a purely public sector driven solution, City Hall’s efforts have recently stretched to the private sector.
“Quite recently, city hall has agreed with Canadia Group and Vattanac Capital to invest in underground parking,” Dimanche said.
However, other private sector projects don’t seem to be in the pipeline, according to government officials.
Lao Tip Seiha, deputy general director of construction department of the Ministry Of Land Management, Urban Planning & Construction told Post Property that no company has signalised interest yet and applied for a construction permit to develop parking facilities.
Does the private sector have an incentive to contribute to a solution?
If developers followed general rules, explained Knight—one car parking space for every 100 square metre of office space and for every 50 square metre of retail space—the problem of parking could be alleviated.
In reality, however, developers often see cost effectiveness triumph over necessity, according to local architect Lorenzo Martini.
“Land is very expensive; every unit of land here is owned by somebody. Nobody would be willing to give up the spaces to create more parking, even the government,” said Martini, referring to large sums garnered by land sales and development potential.
Even in new developments, drivers may have difficulty finding a place to park. Martini finds that many developers often minimize parking space to maximize the number of residential units, such as building low ceilings or steep ramps.
“Although there is regulation that there should be certain percentage of car parking incubated on the number of apartments, it is all left to the private investor to decide,” said Martini.
For example, Martini said that some condominium projects are finished with less car parking spaces than the original approved plan called for.
However, Knight has noticed that many developers are starting to take the issue of parking into account.
“International developers seem to be more mindful of the need to get a balance [of providing parking], otherwise the whole project may not be functional,” said Knight, adding that poorly managed facilities will drive customers away.
For some condominium projects, parking has become an additional selling point. “In the center of a crowded city, the parking space will determine the future value of a high-rise building,” said Chiu Chen Yi, general manager of TC Royal Manor Asset Management.
Located on Russian Blvd, TK Royal One flaunts four floors of underground parking, offering 200 car parking spaces and 289 motorbike spaces against 179 condominium and office units.
“In the future, in order to maintain the right of the pedestrian, parking on the sidewalks should be gradually no longer permitted,” said Chiu. “It will make the parking spaces in the city centre become even more important especially for high-rise building.”
“From our prediction[s], a mechanical parking tower or parking building inside the city center might be a future solution for accommodating the increasing demand of parking in Phnom Penh,” said Chiu.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOEUN NHEAN