The University has recently (late 2015) set up a Car Parking Working Group. It has no Union representation on it, and is currently considering charging for staff carparking, possibly at a rate of 1% of salary for an annual permit.
The stated aims are good — reducing congestion and pollution, and ploughing money raised back into alternative transport schemes. But the scheme finds little favour with me, or the rest of the Exec. I list below some of my concerns, shared by many of my colleagues on the Exec.
I don’t believe that the University’s motivation is environmental. Indeed, I am not very impressed by its record. Provision of secure, dry, lit, cycle-parking is, in many parts of the University, not simply insufficient, but even in decline. Many of you have written to me to complain about cycle racks on many sites. Some have also commented on the poor provision of showering and changing facilities for cyclists.
The Uni4 bus service, the first to be run by (or, more accurately, subsidised by) the University has not expanded either, but rather moved from being free, to 50p per journey, to £1 per journey. Its route makes it useful for getting around parts of the University, but less useful for commuting. It is a conventional diesel, not the hydrogen bus originally promised.
The University used to have Motor Proctors who could regulate the use of cars by most graduate students. Now that graduates with any Cambridge Masters degree are not in statu pupillari they escape the Motor Proctors (Stat A X 2b, Stat A I 7c, Ord II 19 Motor Vehicles), as do graduate students over the age of twenty-four. My observation is that car ownership amongst PhD students is significantly higher than it was 20 years ago, and the University has less power to restrain this.
Do I believe that the proposals to charge are practical? Not really. In West Cambridge where there are plenty of residental roads with no parking restrictions the problem will be displaced. At the moment there is a huge parking problem on Clerk Maxwell Road despite there being empty spaces in an adjacent, but gated, University carpark. Thanks to the poor road layout in Cambridge the West Cambridge site has particular problems — anyone driving from the north or east is unable to use the M11/Madingley Road junction, and tends to drive along Madingley Road from the city. Requiring them to lengthen their journeys to drive to the Park and Ride, and then take a bus back, would not seem ideal.
I find it hard to believe that many people drive in central Cambridge for pleasure. I think most (though probably not all) feel compelled by a combination of distance, health, odd working hours, and a lack of alternatives. I think the University should invest more in encouraging alternative forms of transport, but should not try to raise a million pounds a year or so from the already unhappy car-drivers.
The local Lib Dems seem to agree that the charge might not have much impact on congestion. A recent leaflet from them stated in respect of the employers’ parking levy “we think its fundraising potential is good and would provide an important revenue source to subsidise public transport. Evidence shows that it would have limited effect on congestion.”
Our colleagues in Unite are firmly opposed to any introduction of charges. In general, their members are lower paid, forced to live outside of Cambridge by the high house prices in the City, and then they find themselves forced to commute by car from villages with a couple of buses a day. I think we should show solidarity with the assistant staff on this matter.
Do I have an interest to declare? Possibly. Most days I cycle to work (a little under two miles). A couple of dozen times a year I drive, mostly when poor health recommends this over even an electric bicycle. And I greatly value the ability to do so without any formality.
I hope at some point that the Unions in general, and the UCU in particular, will be invited to engage with the Car Parking Working Group. When we are, our message will be that we do indeed wish to see an even higher proportion of journeys made without the use of cars (and actually I believe that Cambridge is pretty good compared to most Universities outside of the biggest cities), but that we would like to see more carrot and less stick, and we would like to see improvements to the cycling infrastructure and to public transport preceed any introduction of charging for carparks.