By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2022-01-25 08:20:38
The Kerala High court has ad that prima facie, malls cannot charge parking fees from customers who visit the malls. It has cited building rules which mandate that given the size of the building, parking has to be provided for a certain numbers of cars to ease the load on surrounding streets and roads. It has therefore questioned the local municipality in Ernakulam whether it had issued a licence to the Lulu International Mall for collecting parking fees from patrons.
It is irksome to pay parking fees at malls for the simple reason that being a customer one is going to provide business to the shops and other outlets in the mall and should ideally not be charged for parking one's vehicle in the designated parking space. But in reality, parking spaces are costly and there is a trade-off between providing parking spaces or having more outlets. Hence, the mall owning company forgoes revenue when it provides parking space. A parking area in a private commercial complex cannot be deemed as a public space.
Then, while building rules do mandate provision of parking space, nowhere is it specified that such parking space will be free. Apartments either include the cost of parking spaces in the cost of flat or even charge for it separately. If apartments and societies can sell parking spaces, ideally, malls and multiplexes cannot be legally stopped from levying parking charges. Further, municipal corporations or any other licensing authority do not have jurisdiction over privately-owned parking spaces. They can only award licenses for collection of parking fees on land owned by them, or on roads and street under their jurisdiction.
This problem is running since 2019 when the Pune Municipal Corporation made parking free for all at all malls and multiplexes citing an order by Andhra Pradesh HC to this effect. The Gujarat HC also passed a similar order stopping malls from collecting parking fees in 2019. In 2020 malls in Vishakhapatnam were asked to stop collecting parking fees. The malls then converted it to maintenance charges, in line with restaurants that started levying establishment charges when asked to sell mineral water and aerated drinks at MRP. Prima facie, this is really an ethics issue and needs to be addressed by mall owner and outlets.
In some places, the larger outlets usually ask patrons if they require parking coupons for vehicles parked in the mall if one purchases goods from them. That really is the best solution. Outlets that benefit from the custom of patrons should ideally subsidize parking charges. But it will not be feasible in case of people going to watch movies in multiplexes in malls. For they will spend more than three hours and will be charged a minimum of Rs 60 for parking their cars. Multiplexes would not be able to reimburse the amount to them on their ticket prices as that would lead to loss of huge revenue. Mall owners and tenants must sit together and work out a formula that does not deprive revenue for the malls and at the same time does not antagonize patrons.
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