Sunday 21 April 2024

Students should be righting what is wrong, not perpetuating it 

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

University students are not happy about the public reaction to them using the University track and football ground as a car park. 

I have already seen a tsunami of comments replying to those who have deplored the lack of environmental awareness among those who attend our highest educational institution at Tal-Qroqq.  One comment in particular caught my attention: “…we are living in (the) Malta you left us, we are living in a world where public transport is close to useless, roads which are as dangerous as they come, and worst of all (you) are blaming us because we want to be able to park. I mean come on, if you want us to change, maybe you should be the example.”

I am almost tempted to tell this student that he has a valid point, except for one thing: if we all wait around for everyone else to “be the example” then it will never happen.  The crucial issue which students seem to be completely oblivious to is that, all over the world, it is usually the younger generation, specifically students, who campaign to change what is wrong in their country.  They are the ones who are out protesting in their thousands, carrying rebellious anti-establishment signs, rallying against the status quo and wanting to fight for a better world. Our student years are usually the time when we still have sound ideals, and Universities are usually the places where you find loud voices objecting against social injustice, inequality and corruption. Above all, students are always the ones at the forefront when it comes to environmental concerns.  

But here, where students are paid to study and for the most part still live at home where they do not have any bills to pay, our student population only gets riled up when anyone dares to touch two things: their stipends or their parking spaces.  

Meanwhile, instead of being pro-active and leading the change by using alternative means of transport to get to their lectures, all I read on the comments board were students quickly shooting down any suggestions that this is even feasibly possible.  

Park & ride shuttle service from Pembroke?  But it’s not free!  (it costs €1.50 with Tal-Linja card).  

Riding a bike, a scooter or a motorcycle? It’s too dangerous!  (and yet many are making the switch, including some University staff)

Carpooling? Are you out of your $%^&* mind?  

Use the bus? over my dead body!

Any time a suggestion is made where a private car (with just the driver) is even put forward for discussion you would think students are being asked to crawl to University on their hands and knees like some form of penance.   The most wearying argument is where they refuse to even contemplate the mere idea of carpooling because they don’t want to have hang around at University waiting for their ride when their lectures are ready for the day. Well, here is a novel suggestion: use the time to read a book.  Or go to the library and do some research. Perhaps work on an assignment? With a student population of over 11,500 students, which is practically a town in itself, I refuse to believe that it is virtually impossible to find at least one person who lives in your home town or somewhere en route who needs to get to Uni at the same time as yourself. Finding a ride home should likewise not be a problem because swarms of students all finish lectures at the same time.  And yet the carpool initiative launched in February 2016, which allocated a car park to those who carpool, does not seem to have worked.

Because of this adamant refusal to be the change, we have ended up with the situation we are facing today. The closure of one of the car parks because of construction works created panic until what has been described as a “temporary solution” was found.  The University track and football ground, a sports facility which is one of the few open spaces available to the public for jogging, walking or simply to be out in the fresh air, has been turned into a car park.  Apart from being an appalling decision in itself which one does not expect from our highest seat of learning which ostensibly promotes physical exercise, it is simply illegal.  

According to law, MEPA had stipulated that proposals for the upgrading of the sports facilities should ensure that: “the primary use of the site is retained for sports provision and related ancillary facilities. The development will not result in a loss of amenity for residents. Car parking provision is minimized and real incentives for alternative means of transport such as walking, cycling, public transport or coach are encouraged.”

The whole idea of using this sports ground as a car park becomes even more preposterous in light of the University’s much-touted Green Travel Plan which plainly states that “if no further parking infrastructure is provided, the new generations of University students and staff will need to find alternative means of transport.” 

The thing with providing more car parks is that they encourage more car use.  It’s rather like when you have a lot of time on your hands to finish a project and instead of using it wisely, you fritter the time away. If you are given an extension to finish it, you procrastinate even more. When you are pressed for time, however, with a strict deadline, somehow you manage to achieve miracles because the project just has to be done.  

It’s the same with not having anywhere to park: there will come a point when you will be constrained to find another transport solution because it has to be done.  Caving in to the car culture pressure and turning a sports track into a car park, on the other hand, is simply sending the message to keep using our cars because more open spaces will be transformed into parking spaces to accommodate us, no matter what.