WORDS | Kieren Ash
Is the cost of parking taking you for a ride?
If anybody knows the value of a dollar, it’s us – the in-betweeners: in between school and full-time work. When your occupation is a by-word for an obsessive devotion to thrift and a synonym for abject poverty, you know you’re dealing with a fairly skint group of people. And when it comes to parking at Macquarie University, students like you and I, are getting taken for a ride.
The cost of living is a big issue for students around the country. Last years report by Universities Australia revealed that up to two thirds of all university students live below the poverty line, and financial stresses are on the rise. When the Budget was released in May this year, students were lined up to undergo a lot of the pain. Further even a few dollars taken away poses a risk to students’ financial security now and well into the future. For those of us that don’t live with easy access to a train line or bus service, driving is the only option left to get to Uni.
With this is mind, we* undertook an investigation into parking at Macquarie University: how do we compare in terms of price and availability? What do students think about the parking situation? How can we ease the squeeze on squeezed-enough-already students?
Students at Macquarie pay a very high premium for the pleasure of parking on campus. A yearly permit costs $290, a sizeable chunk of change that could easily purchase two first year textbooks, or 41 pints of the cheapest beer at UBar (and face it: you buy the cheapest beer). With only 4,000 parking spaces on campus for a university that boasts 40,000 students and staff, iron laws of supply and demand dictate a sizeable bill.
Alternatively, if you were to forgo a permit and pay at the ticket machine, a full time student that was lucky enough to fit their 12 contact hours into just two days would pay $50 a week in tickets: an impressive $1300 an academic year. No arts student, even one as innumerate as myself, would make this their first choice.
So how does Macquarie compare? We might have the finest grounds, architecture that would make Stalin red with envy, yet in comparison with other universities in Sydney we get an inferior deal on all fronts – price, availability and quality.
Students studying at the University of Western Sydney can get their yearly permits for as little as $92. USYD’s Cumberland Campus sells a yearly permit for just $147, and even our Novocastrian brethren at UoN pay half what we do, just $151. Macquarie Uni is by far the most expensive campus for parking and that too significantly more.
Robert O’Brien, a 23-year-old IT student, thinks it’s a rip-off. Even with a full-time job he finds it hard to cope. “It’s definitely not fair, for what you get it’s way too expensive. It’s such a massive up front cost.” Thankfully for Rob, finding a space isn’t hard because he takes night classes and gets to choose a space when we are all leaving ours. But finding a park is a problem for someone like Tiarne Heath, a 20-year-old second year Media student. What she finds is that more often than not, the product she paid good money for is not available. “The price is not really bad, but it’s more that there’s nowhere near enough spaces for all the people who buy them. I’ve got to drive around for an hour to find a park that I’ve PAID for which is bullshit. If you can’t find a spot you have to park off campus and walk ages to your classes or be late. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Tiarne makes an interesting point. Parking is one product or service that you can pay for and not be guaranteed to receive: something that we would be rightly frustrated about if it was food or clothing. Yet many of us pay for parking only to receive nothing in return. The University even states on their website that purchase of a permit is no guarantee of finding a spot. Paying a lot of money for nothing sounds like a scam to you, and it does to me. There are consumer laws against this, and if not there should be.
It wasn’t always this way however! When Larissa Allen studied primary education at Macquarie from 1989 to 1992, she found parking plentiful and extremely cheap. “It was very cheap, it had to be, because I was a student! My boyfriend called me Dollar-Fifty Larissa because I never had a cent on me, but even then I could afford the parking easily”. Larissa was surprised to hear how expensive parking at university had become since she graduated. So why the big hike?
A lack of spaces is certainly something that anyone who has driven to Macquarie has experienced. When there are ten students for every parking space on campus, it’s hardly surprising that it’s difficult to find a spot: but when the universities financial interests are taken into consideration, it makes even more sense. Scarcity drives up price, and it’s in the interest of the university to keep parking scarce and expensive. Could it be that the university is keeping parking scarce and expensive to improve their bottom line?
Macquarie University’s 2013 financial report show parking fees and charges earned them a cool $4.6 million that year, up from $3.8 million in 2012. It’s not a massive part of their operating revenue, but it’s no small change either. Business students could testify that a company that was turning over almost $5 million in revenue and growing every year was a healthy one indeed.
The solution for our parking problem is simple, economical and rational. The University must invest in new and expanded parking facilities to make parking more accessible and affordable for the students who pay for it. An increased supply of parking should mean that the price of permits and parking should fall for everybody. History has shown that parking can be affordable and accessible for students at Macquarie. It’s up to you and I to make our voices heard, and demand treatment equal to that received by our peers at UWS or UoN. Shouldn’t we, as students, and as customers, demand proper treatment? Shouldn’t we all get a fair go from Macquarie University?
*Kieren Ash (Vice-President of Macquarie University Labor) will be running a campaign on the issue of parking costs at the university over the next semester. If you want to help take up the fight on parking prices, sign the Labor Club’s petition: “Don’t get ripped off – have your say”.