From car to carbuncle

Someone was whining about NHS car-park charges being too high this morning. Of course, they mentioned cancer patients: like a cancer patient’s greatest worry is “should I use my car and find a place to park it, or use a bus or taxi?” I’m just surprised they didn’t mention the children—please, won’t somebody mention the children?—just to clinch the argument. It’s far more likely, anyway, that car users will be piles sufferers—all that sitting down—but I suppose that wouldn’t elicit the same wailing and gnashing of rhetorical teeth among the Radio 4 listeners.

I’m always astonished by the way that the most common convenience in the modern world—the car—seems to attract other conveniences. If you have a car, the world suddenly tries to rearrange itself arround you, and this new report (recommending free parking, no less) is an excellent example. People seem to assume that anyone who has a car, who has a fancy to use it at the inconvenience of others, somehow shits gold bricks (unless, of course, they’re having troubles “down under”) and should be molly-coddled in a way. For every leukemia sufferer that’s able to drive to their place of treatment, there’s a hundred other people that can’t drive for financial or health reasons, who are being routinely shafted by the public transport system, having every inconvenience heaped upon their heads, and turn up at the hospital having spent pounds or tens of pounds on buses and trains to get there, and wonder why they didn’t just come by car.

Let’s be clear: having a car does not entitle you to a parking space, whatever your reasons for using it (that’s what public transport and private hire is there for). Having a car does not entitle you to even park the car outside your house. Having a car, in fact, does not entitle you to even use it, if circumstances don’t permit. Driving and parking cars are not human rights so long as buses and trains remain in operation.

It’s easily forgotten that car parking is a service that someone has to pay for somehow. On top of the wages of maintenance and security personnel, each parking space is one less bed; three parking spaces make one fewer consultancy; ten parking spaces make one fewer room for diagnostic machines, or a surgery. The money spent on maintenance might otherwise be spent on the furniture and machines to go in these rooms. Often the land used for parking spaces is subject to various local council rents and other punitive measures that have to in some way be paid for, and as K. says it’s not the NHS’ place to fund private caprices at the expense of public good.

In place of car parking charges, they want to charge people for missed appointments. A capital idea! But, wait: since K. has started working in Blackbird Leys (one of the poorest areas of Oxford) she’s found that, if nothing else, people there have such a hard time organizing themselves to the extent that they’re never on time for meetings. They have to plan child-minding, which often falls through. They have to look for work, which often means last-minute interviews. They have to be constantly rejigging their whole lives because they’re not well-off enough to plan in advance or adapt easily to changing circumstances. So the current proposals move the charges from people who have the privilege of private transport.

For heaven’s sake. Advocacy groups (except perhaps the CBI) are meant to protect vulnerable people, not those who can already afford the upkeep and taxation of a road vehicle. Stand up for the poor, you fools. Campaign for better public transport links. Campaign for subsidies for public and private-hire transport for those that need it. Campaign for fewer parking spaces, and campaign for an increase in parking charges, so that the hospital can use that space for other facilities and use the money to fund them. And anyone who has a car, who’s finding it hard to pay the parking fees at their local hospital, should consider how much they need that enormous four-wheeled convenience.

They finished the report by mentioning that parking in some central London trust cost £3 an hour, and how that was £72 a day. To be honest, that doesn’t sound at all surprising for a parking space in the busiest city in the country. If that money relates at all to the cost that the actual trust is paying in ground rents (quite possible) then how can you expect them to offer it you for free? Will anyone who doesn’t bring a car get the same amount of money, cash in hand?

The cost of parking is generally (although not always) intended as a discouragement from using that particular method of transport, and provides a cap on what might otherwise be runaway demand. If hospital parking were cheaper or even free, then demand would considerably outstrip supply, leaving the existing services wholly insufficient. If you want to make parking free in hospitals, fine: but you decide, here and now, which buildings will make way for the extra spaces that will be required as a result. And explain it to the patients who will lose out.

  • Repost: to make me sound less like a eugenicist; Tue, 18 Jul 2006; 17:30.
  • Original: Tue, 18 Jul 2006; 13:05.
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