This opinion piece originally appeared in a 2009 edition of the ‘Tertangala’, the magazine of the Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association (WUSA).
Transport access to the University of Wollongong isn’t quite what the university administration would have you believe. You would have received your glossy Transport Access Guide in the mail at the beginning of the year with an amazing claim that you can “save over $7800* each year by using train [sic] from Sutherland”. Amazing! I thought. I don’t even spend that much money driving to and parking on campus, and I wish my car was worth close to that amount. I investigated further.
UOW based their figures on the total ownership cost of a vehicle. Even if I did regularly catch the train to uni, I’d still own a car. I need one to get around. UOW factored in fuel costs, which is fair enough. Even in my fuel efficient hatchback, I still burn a lot of the stuff getting to and from uni. Insurance or third party property damage insurance is already a fixed cost for me. It doesn’t matter if I drive 5 kilometres or 500 kilometres a week. It’s all the same. I’d be paying it anyway – likewise with registration expenses.
As for interest on loans and depreciation, most students aren’t financing a new BMW. We’re driving around in the nicest piece of crap that we can afford. We don’t care about depreciation. Most students pray to the deity of their choosing that their car will pass rego and that it’ll survive the remaining two years that they have left on their degree, or that Chairman Rudd will give them just one more stimulus package to fix whatever is wrong with it today.
I consider myself to be a somewhat typical student at UOW. I study here full time and I have a part time job. This, in the eyes of the NSW Department of Transport makes me ineligible to receive a rail concession privilege. Instead of paying $8.60 for a return fare from Cronulla, I’d have to pay $17.20. Or $54 for a weekly ticket instead of the $27 that a non-working student would pay.
WUSA has a campaign to “Demand a ‘fare’ go for international students”, who also don’t receive travel concessions. But what about the full time domestic student who doesn’t claim any Centrelink benefits and works a few nights a week at their local supermarket? For not leaching off the taxpayer, for gaining workplace experience and benefiting the economy, the NSW Government will punish that student by charging them twice the concession fare. This is a tax that unfairly charges those who really can afford it least. It also removes any financial saving that student might have derived from catching the train to uni.
The well off will not be affected by this unfair levy by the NSW Government. For the trust fund kid with a daddy who pays for everything and doesn’t want or need to be employed whilst they’re at uni. That student will be fully eligible for the concession fare.
I’d much rather drive the 61 KMs in an air-conditioned car that isn’t on anyone’s schedule but mine. A 54 minute drive on a non-congested freeway is far better than a 20 minute walk to the train station and a 2 hour train trip – including a transfer at Sutherland, and then either catching the shuttle bus from North Wollongong to the uni, or just walking it. All that – only if you time it perfectly, and if the train schedule isn’t too far out from your class schedule. You’ll also be hoping for good weather for your walk to and from the train station and for the time you’ll be waiting for your transfers at Sutherland. It’d be quicker to drive to the airport and catch a plane to Melbourne.
Far too often I’ll receive another alert through SOLSmail about how another female student has been assaulted or harassed whilst walking to the train station or otherwise out of the uni. Even if they make it safely to the train station, they’ll probably have to wait a while for the next train, and then be stuck in a carriage with whatever random people are also travelling back to Sydney, and then a night time walk back home if they can’t get a lift. At least if they drove, UOW Security would have provided them an escort back to their car if requested.
Driving to UOW, although the superior option – can be bloody frustrating. With car parks that are constantly full, if you arrive in a peak period you may find yourself circling the car parks for up to 1 hour and 6 minutes – my own personal record. I’ve missed entire classes from being in a holding pattern.
UOW needs practical solutions to these problems, and for whatever reason the administration just doesn’t get it. They’ll send out SOLSmail messages blaming students for global warming and climate change for driving to uni. They’ve increased the cost of parking by up to 50%, increased the number of enrolled students by 500 this year, and have reduced the number of parking spaces available to students by removing the Ovals car park from student use. It’s now a staff only car park. For receiving such rubbish advice from the consultants that UOW engaged to improve car parking on campus – UOW should fire them and admit they were wrong for acting on such ridiculous advice.
The university administration refuses to commit to any significant increase in car park infrastructure, having previously used excuses about how the environmentalists on campus will go off their tree if any solution other than utilising wind powered commuter busses – fuelled only by all the hot air generated by WUSA, is considered. There is a group on Facebook called ‘Maybe if I join this group, UOW will finally do something about parking!’ There are 1229 people on this group who have put their name to demanding parking improvements on campus. Surely the university is not trembling at the thought of a few unwashed ferals waving some banners on campus? I’ve walked into a meeting of the Environment Collective. It consists of around 6 or 7 people. Surely they shouldn’t hold up progress, or be fooled into thinking that they have that much influence with senior management?
Although I am a proponent of constructing another multi-story car park on campus, there are other solutions which I’ve raised in the Academic Senate, such as extending the range of hours that classes take place in. UOW is almost purely a 9:00 am – 5:00 pm university, with most people arriving and leaving at roughly the same time, causing traffic congestion and intense competition for parking spaces. By having lecture and tutorial options in the early evening, the demand during the peak periods would be reduced. This would also make university easier to attend for students in full time employment who could then attend classes after work – reducing the financial stress of being a student. Such a change would also bring UOW in line with certain Sydney based universities that have class schedules structured for working students. Unfortunately management and certain academics were dead set against this idea.
Lack of reasonable transport options, insufficient parking infrastructure and financial hardship is something that students must deal with so that staff can work a 9 to 5 at UOW.