S. Koreans’ daily war: Finding parking space

SEOUL • With limited space and inefficient regulations, many South Koreans are learning to live with the art of parking, illegally.

In South Korea, where cars are viewed as a symbol of socioeconomic status, the number of registered vehicles continues to rise as the economy grows. But space to house them remains limited.

The number of vehicles registered here as of last year was 22.5 million units, up 3.3 per cent on the year, according to the Transportation Ministry. This is similar to the number registered in California, which has about three times more land than South Korea.

Fraught with a lack of parking space and inadequate regulations, South Korea grapples with chronic parking issues – vehicles are parked on sidewalks, fire lanes or any nook and cranny one can find.

“After I got my driver’s licence, my biggest fear was not in driving on a fast expressway, but to find a parking spot large enough to fit my car,” said Ms Lee Joo Hyun, 30, who owns a compact Kia car.

A survey by local market researcher Trendmonitor showed 52.2 per cent of 1,000 drivers said a lack of parking space is the number one reason for illegal parking.

The number of tickets issued for illegally parked cars jumped nearly seven times from 2,604 cases in 2012 to 15,439 cases in 2015, according to figures from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

Congested parking lots have even led to violent situations.

A man in his 20s was arrested in July last year for smashing a neighbour’s car with a golf club after the neighbour refused to relocate his double-parked vehicle at a multi-unit house in Incheon.

There have also been cases with fatal consequences. A fire that broke out at a fitness centre last December in Jecheon claimed 29 lives. About 20 cars parked illegally on the street made it difficult for fire engines to get through.

Ironically, the amount of space allocated for parking in South Korea has risen over the years.

As of 2016, parking slots in Seoul reached 3.9 million units, exceeding the three million cars registered, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Despite the increase, the parking struggles show a shortage in useful and accessible parking spaces.

Experts said the government must overhaul the way parking spaces are factored into the process of construction approvals.

“Budgets to construct public parking lots in regions with multi-unit houses or old apartment complexes often do not pass the final stages of city evaluation,” said Dr Kim Do Gyeong, a professor of the University of Seoul’s department of transport engineering.

“This is because they are seen to have limited benefits to citizens compared with the amount of money invested, compared with for instance, building a public park,” he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'S. Koreans’ daily war: Finding parking space'. Print Edition | Subscribe