I used to take the bus in to the university until they started cutting the service. That coincided with two years of roadworks, which meant that even if the bus arrived on time, you never had any idea of when you would actually get there. I started driving in instead, a bit of a pain if you want to do some last-minute reading, but at least it guaranteed that I could get to my classes before the students had given up on me and shuffled off home.
The problem then was how much it cost. You have to pay to park at our place, and every year the charges get higher. I opted for what I thought was less painful – that is, having the parking charges deducted from my salary every month, but all that does is enrage me when I see how much Wee Tommie and his cronies in the Registry have jacked up the price.
Someone told me once that car parking is one of the topics that leads to more cases of petty assault than practically any other aspect of our daily lives, and I can believe it. Because not only does the cost keep creeping up, sneakily and without advance warning, but also it gets harder and harder to find one of the places you’ve paid for. Turn up after a certain time of day, and you can drive round and round for an hour without finding an unoccupied nook or corner. The internet is full of complaints and, periodically, a bland message goes out trying to reassure us that something is about to be done to “enhance our parking sites”, though nothing ever seems to happen.
Last week was the pits. I drove to a car park where there are usually some spaces, only to find a whacking great barrier and a sign telling me it was closed until further notice. I drove to the next car park, a ten-minute walk from my building, and found it so full that people were double-parked all over the place. The sort of assaults that went on later that day when drivers came back to their cars and found themselves totally blocked in, I can’t imagine. Eventually, I found the last remaining space in a car park at the opposite end of the campus, and walked for 20 minutes in a downpour, carrying a bag of books and an increasingly sodden laptop.
This happened for three days in a row, so I started ringing the administration minions to find out how long the car park was going to be shut. It took several tries, then I got a girl with adenoids who informed me that “major restructuring” was taking place. Would it take long, I asked. Couldn’t say, was the reply, because that would depend on the contractors. I pushed a bit more – were they building a multistorey car park, in which case we would all put up with the inconvenience if that meant there would be enough parking spaces for all. Oh no, said the minion, and divulged that the contractors were building a new centre for the study of something incomprehensible, no doubt a perk for the science faculty.
I decided to follow this up. If the car park had gone, where were the cars that used it supposed to park? I wrote to Wee Tommie for clarification, and got an email back telling me that we as a university were trying to reduce our carbon footprint and promote ourselves as one of the UK’s greenest institutions. Fewer car parking spaces would win us brownie points, apparently, as would putting in a few more bike racks. So much for enhanced parking sites!
Other colleagues were equally furious. It seems that one of the few things academics can actually agree on is car parking: there isn’t enough of it, it is too expensive, we all feel exploited and we don’t feel anybody listens to us. Such is the outrage that even the anti-car minority can be welcomed into the fold; after all, we would all give up our cars tomorrow if there were adequate alternative means of transport.
So a public meeting was held and we started two petitions, one urging the university to become greener, to improve public transport and to put showers in every building so that the mud-stained cyclists can rinse themselves off, and the other urging the university to build a multistorey car park as a matter of urgency.
I doubt if anything will happen as a result of either, but I am having fantasies about what I am going to do if anyone blocks in my Renault Clio, one of these days. If I am really lucky, it will be a large posh vehicle or, if my ship comes in, it will be Wee Tommie’s vehicle. You have to dream a little, don’t you?