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Parking Madness

April 8th, 2006

There’s a joke I came up with years ago: you can’t park illegally in Japan because all the illegal spaces are taken.

Parking in Japan is a nightmare, which is why I’m glad I don’t drive a car. Traffic jams and narrow streets are bad enough, but what do you do when you get there? Pay a lot of money to park in a parking lot somewhere, is the usual answer (paid parking starts at $2-3 per hour). But parking is not always available–legal parking, anyway. So you always see cars parked illegally. I always go down a boulevard in Japan, a two-lane street that serves as a major thoroughfare for western Tokyo. All too often cars and trucks park in the left-hand lane, blocking it. Forget double-parking; it’s hard to imagine a place in Japan where that would not completely block all traffic.

Every year, 1.6 million traffic tickets are handed out. And that’s already giving people a fighting chance–parking police (identifiable by their tiny police cars) mark tires with chalk, and then come back later (takes me back to the days when I worked in Palo Alto–the trick was to roll your car just enough in its space so the chalk marks went under the tires and disappeared). That gives people who’ve parked illegally a chance to get out before the ticket comes. Not a problem if you just need to park for ten or fifteen minutes–which is what the takkyubin (parcel delivery) trucks do all the time.

Parking at home can be a chore as well. I have heard that before you can even buy a car, you have to show that you’ve secured a parking place where you live. The parking lot outside my building has a dual-level lift system, where you park your car on a platform, which then rises so another car can park underneath. Vertical parking garages are not all that uncommon.

The problem is, there’s no solution to the problem short of radically reducing the number of cars in Japan. It would be impossible to eke out any more space for parking. So Japan’s new solution (tip of the hat to Cosmic Buddha) for alleviating illegal parking is not really a solution, but rather a compounding of the problem.

Here’s the plan: starting in June, the Japanese police will hand over parking violation policing to private-sector companies. These companies will not chalk your vehicle, but instead will ticket you as soon as they see the violation. They take a digital photo of your vehicle, slap a sticker on it to inform you that you’ve been had, and notify the police, who bill you.

I see several problems with this. First, deliveries have to be made, and it appears that no exceptions will be made. There are a ton of shops in Japan that have no parking lots or driveways; to get their goods delivered, trucks will have to park far from the shops. Takkyubin companies will get into big trouble, as they rarely will have spot to park; they may have to increase their staff to include both drivers and delivery people, else make other arrangements that might cost more and muck things up.

Second, the problem is not that people have legal places to park but decide not to; the problem is that all too often, as my oft-told joke suggests, there is simply no place to legally park. Ergo this “solution” will solve nothing–it will simply increase the number of tickets issued. Can you say “government revenue enhancement”?

But worst is the specter of commercial ticketing, where for-profit corporations are paid a bonus for every ticket they issue. It will no longer be a meter maid who gets paid x yen per hour no matter how many tickets are issued. It will be a company that will have a vested interest in ticketing people as much as humanly possible. Japanese police say they expect parking tickets to double–I say that’s a grossly conservative estimate. Unless there are specific stipulations limiting the number of tickets that can be handed out, there will be nothing stopping these companies from trying to maximize profits by issuing tickets galore–which in Tokyo and other big cities in Japan, will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Add to this the fact that in Japan, parking violations are expensive ($100 to $150), and take two points from your license–15 points, or 8 parking tickets, and your license gets suspended.

Expect a lot of angry drivers later this year, and probably more than a few altercations between motorists and ticket issuers.

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  1. kyw
    April 8th, 2006 at 05:50 | #1

    Perhaps deliveries to crowded areas will need to be made at very late hours, or they will increase the # of loading zone spots?

  2. charizardpal
    March 9th, 2007 at 14:53 | #2

    I wonder how you say ‘parking ticket’ in Japanese?

  3. Luis
    March 10th, 2007 at 01:06 | #3

    Well, a ticket is “kippu,” to get a ticket is “kippu wo kiru.” I’m not sure about the parking variety, but I think it’s “chusha-ihan no kippu.”

  4. Yuri
    March 16th, 2010 at 23:51 | #4

    I just got my first warning sign!!! i dunno if its a warning or a ticket… i know ticket are yellow in color what i got was a no parking sign and some kanjis ( LOL ) printed on a bond paper… i still have the wakaba mark on my car so i guess its just a warning… but still i hate it… i have to agree with this post since there is not much parking space outside…

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