|A shop on Ta Hien Street, one of the capital's pedestrian areas. Both shops and illegal parking lots get in the way of locals and tourists in the Old Quarter. — VNS Photo Thai Ha
HA NOI (VNS) — Several illegal motorbike parking lots set up on streets reserved for pedestrians in the capital city's Hoan Kiem District have been overcharging customers, officials say.
Municipal authorities have added six more streets to the list of pedestrians-only streets since May this year, aiming to highlight the city's shopping and culinary charms.
Hang Buom, Hang Giay, Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ma May, Dao Duy Tu and Ta Hien streets joined Hang Dao and Dong Xuan, streets already closed to traffic in the evening every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The city has nearly 20 legal motorbike parking lots, but these are insufficient to meet demand, paving the way for illegal activities, officials said.
The illegal lots were typically charging rates several times higher than the regulated prices, they added.
Nguyen Ngoc Tram of Cau Giay District, had to pay VND40,000 (US$1.9) for her Lead motorbike. She found that the motorbike keepers charged different prices for different models. While the parking rate for a Dream motorbike is VND20,000 ($0.9), an SH model would be charged VND50,000 ($2.3).
Vu Thi Loan, a resident of Thanh Xuan District, said that it was difficult to access legal parking lots because employees of the illegal ones were insistent in inviting customers as soon as they entered the area.
Nguyen Song Tung, deputy director of the Dong Xuan Corporation, which is implementing a project to expand pedestrians-only streets in the city, said employees of the illegal motorbike parking lots had "sophisticated tricks" to attract more customers.
They arranged the bikes be close to the legal places and wore blue shirts, a colour similar to the company's uniform, he said.
The company listed more than 30 illegal parking lots, most of them were on Hang Buom and Dao Duy Tu streets.
He said the company hopes to receive help from district and ward authorities to close the illegal parking lots.
Nguyen Van Thanh, chairman of the Hang Bac Ward People's Committee, said that it was difficult to fine illegal parking lots, because they were set up by local residents who claimed to use spaces in front of their houses without encroaching into other areas.
Lam Quoc Hung, deputy chairman of the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee, said his administration would check all motorbike parking lots in the locality and co-ordinate with other agencies to punish violations.
In HCM City, illegal parking lots have also created unhealthy competition for legal parking lots and even threaten their survival.
Their owners say city authorities encouraged them to spend money to build the parking lots, but did nothing to provide a fair business environment.
Chairman of Tien Tien Trade, Construction and Engineering Ltd Company, Nguyen Van Tien, said that the company's five-storey lot had invested US$20 million to develop the lot covering 37,000sq.m in HCM City's Tan Phu District.
It was designed to handle 1,500 cars and 1,500 motorbikes.
The parking fee is VND10,000 for the first hour, VND10,000 for the two following hours and VND10,000 for the next three.
"If the five-storey parking lot was kept full, it would take us about 20 years to get a return on our investment," Tien said.
"But now, there are only about 400-500 cars regularly using the service."
Tien said the downturn was caused by many illegal lots able to offer cheap rates because they did not invest in facilities, safety equipment or even pay taxes.
"It took me four years, from 2009 to 2013, to get a licence to operate the lot because of cumbersome administrative procedures," he said.
The city authorities encouraged the private sector to invest in parking lots, but they have failed to create a fair situation for us to develop, he said.
"After operating the parking lot for over a year, we have asked the municipal People's Committee to change our business to storage, a fuel station or even a car wash," he said.
Former vice director of the city's Architecture Planning Department told the Dien dan doanh nghiep (Business Forum) that illegal parking lots were not included in the city's plans for parking space.
"But the city authority needs to control their development to ensure the rights of lawful car park owners and their clients," he said.
He suggested the city should impose special rates on illegal lots and require their owners to invest in proper facilities.
Earlier this year, the municipal People's Committee recommended incentives for parking lot investors, including exemption from land-use fees and land-lease payments, reducing corporate income tax and even import taxes for investors who import high tech equipment for parking lots.
HCM City faces a critical shortage of parking areas. Under Government decision 58/QD-TTg, approved last year, it aims to have 1,145ha of parking space by 2020. Currently, however, there are less than 77ha. — VNS