Hideo Sakata remembers the time of “lawlessness” when it was easy to find a place in Tokyo’s Roppongi district to park his motorcycle.
“Everybody used to park on the sidewalk or on the side of the street and they never got tickets,” said Sakata, who has been commuting to Roppongi by motorcycle for 20 years.
Things changed when the Roppongi Hills complex opened in April 2003 and police started cracking down on illegal parking.
According to the National Policy Agency, the number of parking tickets issued nationwide to motorcycles bigger than 50cc jumped more than three-fold to 68,383 in 2005, from 19,562 in 1995.
But motorcyclists who don’t want a ticket have a problem — there aren’t enough legal places to park.
That is expected to change once a parking lot law revision covering all motorcycles, enacted in May, goes into effect at the end of the year.
“The revision was made due to rising voices to take measures for illegal motorcycle parking in the past few years,” said Manabu Motoune, an official in charge of the parking lot law at the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.
The transport ministry had argued that motorcycle parking would be better managed on the local level by revising municipal ordinances because it is an urban issue, Motoune said.
Motorcyclist Sakata said the Roppongi Hills motorcycle parking lot has only 78 spots and they are all taken by 7:30 a.m.
There is demand for about 13,000 parking spaces for motorcycles over 50cc in the Tokyo area, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Corporation for Road Improvement and Management.
The city currently has only 1,000 spaces.
In a survey conducted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association last year, about 80 percent of the 500 private parking lot operators questioned said they did not allow motorcycles to park in their lots.
Motorcycle-industry watchers blamed the lawmakers and bureaucrats for not including motorcycles over 50cc in the law, which requires municipal governments to promote the building of parking lots. Cars, motor scooters up to 50cc and bicycles are covered by the parking lot and bicycle laws, but motorcycles were overlooked.
Yuji Sato, a spokesman for Suzuki Motor Corp., said the problem took root in the late 1990s when large motorcycles became popular. Residents and pedestrians found them more of a nuisance, so demands for better legislation increased, he said.
“More young people began to ride motorcycles (in the late 1990s) because they are less costly and convenient when they want to go to the central areas and stay after the last train has left,” Sato said. “Most of them park in front of stores or on the sidewalk.”
The change in the law is already having an effect, as local governments are making moves to increase the number of parking lots for motorcycles.
In July 2004, the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Corporation for Road Improvement and Management started handing out 200,000 yen per space to any business or government in the 23 wards that wants to open a motorcycle parking lot.
The government group had a budget to subsidize 182 parking spaces in fiscal 2004, which increased to 346 in fiscal 2005. However, this year it has already received applications for about 600 spaces — roughly twice the amount allocated in the fiscal 2006 budget.
“Until this fiscal year, the number of applications was within the budget limit,” said Hiroshi Koike, an official at the public corporation in charge on parking lots. “But because the law has been revised, we are planning to fund all of the applicants” with extra budget money.
Motorcycle lobby groups have welcomed the legal revision, but they think it will take some time before motorcyclists will have adequate access to parking.
“Although the law has been revised, it is still unclear if there will be enough parking spaces for bikes,” said Yoshinori Hasegawa, head of the traffic affairs department at the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. “I hope it will be resolved soon . . . but the road ahead looks tough.”