Leader: Wheeling and dealing

February 10, 2006

Little, it seems, divides academics more than the issue of costly car parking. One union official contends that parking, even more than pay, guarantees packed meetings of academics debating the question with all the consensus of ultra-vegans and diehard carnivores discussing duck a l'orange.

There are good arguments on both sides of the debate.

It is easy to sympathise with staff who insist that parking charges are an unfair tax on those who must drive to work because high house prices force them to live miles from campus, or who have child care duties that entail the use of a car.

On the other side are those who argue convincingly that universities must show a clear environmental lead and that parking charges are a way to lever the bulk of staff, who do not need to drive, on to greener transport.

Significantly, what seems to be tipping the balance in favour of higher charges at many institutions is the extra income generated.

It seems reasonable for both camps to unite to demand that such revenue be put into improving safety in car parks, laying on extra buses or providing showers for cyclists. It seems equally reasonable to conclude that if parking fees are being used as a tax on staff to subsidise entirely unrelated activities, then both sides are being taken for a ride.

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