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MOSCOW, January 20 - The desire of the Moscow authorities to cut the number of vehicles in the city center through introducing the system of paid parking lots has virtually split Muscovites into two opposing camps: pedestrians and motorists, that is, supporters and opponents of the radical measure. The latter believe that parking has actually become property qualification for motorists.
The fight between them became politicized after the A Just Russia party decided to organize a referendum for city residents on the issue. The move did not come off but verbal battles continue. Nevertheless, the authorities may boast of the first tangible result - the number of cars in the city center has noticeably gone down.
Assuming his office in 2010, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said ridding Moscow of huge traffic jams was his priority task. The goal is to be achieved by means of a complex program, which in particular includes various measures aimed at making as many Muscovites as possible use public transportation instead of cars. Only one measure - paid parking lots - has so far led to tangible results.
The first paid parking area appeared in Moscow on November 1, 2012. At first, it was only limited to a few streets and alleys. The Russian capital’s authorities liked that experience, and the paid parking area was considerably expanded from June 1, 2013: motorists were supposed to pay for parking of cars on a territory limited by the Boulevard Ring and the Moskva River. The paid parking area was expanded to the entire Garden Ring from December 25, 2013, to include 17,000 parking spaces.
Unlike many European and American cities, motorists have to pay for parking in downtown Moscow round the clock: there are no discounts at night. The hourly payment is 60 rubles ($1.8) per each 60 minutes between the Boulevard Ring and the Garden Ring, and 80 rubles ($2.4) within the Boulevard Ring. A monthly permit for parking between the Garden and Boulevard rings costs 12,000 rubles ($355), and an annual parking permit for the same area is worth 120,000 rubles ($3,550).
Residents of districts within the Garden Ring are entitled to free parking for two vehicles. Besides, disabled people and families with multiple children will be able to park one car free of charge.
Parking remains free in the yards and near schools, kindergartens, hospitals, clinics, some hotels and multifunctional centers. In all, some 1,200 parking spaces will remain free. The authorities do not intend to charge motorists for entering the city center, as some experts proposed. Nor do they plan to raise prices for parking once again.
Meanwhile, the A Just Russia party collected signatures in Moscow for a referendum on the issue of paid parking lots in the city. According to the law, 2 percent of Moscow voters, or 143,500 signatures of city residents, are required to hold such a referendum. However, it became known on Saturday that the referendum will not take place. A Just Russia said it would not submit the collected signatures to the Moscow Election Commission as too many fakes were discovered among them. It remains a mystery who forged the signatures: party members say there was a planned provocation, whereas the city hall believes the party did not aim for success from the beginning but only worked for self-promotion.
The Moscow government’s transport department said it was not against the referendum whereas city residents would back the idea of paid parking lots all the same. “We are convinced that Moscow residents support the project to introduce paid parking lots. The transport department has never prevented the holding of a referendum by an initiative group,” the Vedomosti daily quotes a department spokesman as saying.
Moscow received 200 million rubles ($5.9 million) from the operation of the paid parking area in 2013, Maxim Liksutov, a deputy mayor for transport, told the Echo of Moscow radio. Liksutov recalled that the collected funds do not go to the municipal budget but are “transferred to the district where they were collected.”
The official did not rule out that the paid parking area could be expanded in the future, but “this expansion should not affect the residence area.” “It will mainly affect areas where shopping centers, office buildings and other transport-attracting facilities are situated,” Liksutov explained.
Many experts agree that the situation has improved in downtown Moscow. Others call it a “discriminatory regime.”
“There are fewer cars and it is more pleasant to walk now. It’s an advantage not only for Moscow center residents but also for those who work there. Moscow now looks different for tourists: architectural monuments, green areas, parks, earlier blocked by cars, are now visible. It’s an attempt to stop an uncontrolled growth of the number of cars, which may lead to a gridlock,” Alexander Shumsky, the head of the Probok.net expert center, says as quoted by the Za Rulyom (Behind the wheel) magazine.
“Vehicles that parked all day long almost stopped entering the city center. The number of cars has considerably gone down,” Pyotr Shkumatov, the coordinator of the Blue Buckets protest movement, agrees. However, he thinks there could be more parking spaces.
The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily cites blogger Yevgeny Shultz as saying Moscow has a “discriminatory regime” regarding motorists rather than a thought-out concept regulating the residents’ movement around the city.
“It is known that a normal transport regime in the city is possible when some 2 million vehicles are riding along the city streets, like in summer, when there is a holiday season. When the number of cars reaches and exceeds the 2.5 million mark, traffic jams and gridlocks occur,” he says.
To onlookers it seems that the authorities have decided to drive out the 500,000 “extra” vehicles from the city streets by hook or by crook.
In his view, traffic cameras in illogical places, introduction of “unreasonable” bus lanes and paid parking lots pursue that aim.
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