“A university President has three key tasks which his or her main stakeholders will expect to see achieved: sex for the students, athletics for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.” At least that’s what Clark Kerr, former Chancellor of the University of California, suggests in his book, The Uses of the University. He then quips that only the last of these presented a problem.
Ferdinand von Prondzynki, the current Principal and Vice Chancellor of The University of Aberdeen, recently made reference to this quote on his blog that in his time as President of Dublin City University, ‘some of the most intractable problems concerned car parking.’ With more students now owning a car, which was ‘not something that would have been common when I was a student’, the problem seems to be escalating, despite the fact that over 90% of British universities have green targets to reduce emissions.
The parking revolution
Many universities have strict parking regulations and allocated times when the students are allowed to park on campus. At Bedford University, students have hit back against new parking strategy which aims to eliminate students parking in nearby residential areas in order to avoid the parking charge of £1.40 per day. The new scheme will require all students and staff to provide their registration number, making it possible to track a driver who may be causing problems in the surrounding roads.
If universities are enlightened centres of learning, along with their commitment to greener, more sustainable living – surely these academic leaders should be concentrating their efforts on finding alternatives to the petrol based car and even making campuses car free zones?
Or should that be electric only zones?
The UK and the U.S. are both signed up to a global target of 20 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 (there were only 40,000 sold globally in 2012). It is large state institutions like hospitals, universities and government sites that could significantly help us move towards this target. Electrically powered transport will eventually be the preferred mode of getting around campus and the local town, either by bike or car. But electric cars are expensive and if only 20% of students currently own a car, even less own an electric model! Enter the electric bike.
Electric bikes have long been a pet project of many universities’ engineering departments, but are now making good commercial sense for both universities and students alike. E-bikes once had a bad name with poor Chinese designs but over the last few years have experienced a huge upsurge in sales. In 2012, 30 million units were sold and electric bikes are now the fastest growing sector of the cycle industry. Due to advanced designs and a competitive market place, electric bikes are now becoming hot transport solutions for many universities across the world; the University of Dundee is running an e-bike scheme for their staff and across the pond at the prestigious Wellesley College, facilities’ mechanics now use electric bikes to carry diagnostic tools in specially designed saddle bags. The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering at Kingston University in Surrey, UK, have spent the last few years developing (and racing) their electric motorbike which can reach speeds of 100mph. Electric bikes also make good commercial sense (£1 will get you 1500 miles at 15mph), are easy to charge, have removable batteries and get the rider to their destination without the sweat factor – so no need for a shower before the lecture.
Give us a lift…
Another alternative is heavier promotion of car sharing schemes and use of pool cars. Bristol University have recently launched their staff private car sharing scheme in conjunction with the Travel To Work Implementation Group and Liftshare.com in order to tackle parking problems and reduce CO2 emissions on their campuses. Many universities have created their own car clubs or joined forces with companies like Zipcar, where students receive cheaper membership and can hire VW Polo for £5 per hour. Check out studentcarshare.com as another way students can grab a lift for half the price.
When the government introduce a car reduction scheme (yes, this will happen in the next 20 years) it will be large institutions like universities, hospitals and government buildings that will lead the way. Isn’t it time we stopped worrying about car parking and came up with new, greener transport solutions? University Presidents, forget the car parks and introduce electric charging stations, drop off points, plenty of safe bike racks and an easy to use car sharing system for the commuting student.
Kate Marillat is a freelance writer who is passionate about alternative energy and innovative transport solutions. Follow her on Twitter @ethicalbizkate.