We all saw the survey emailed to MSU students last semester on whether students prefer to have most of the parking slashed, moved to provide students with an extra workout before class, or if they prefer to be charged to assure the survival of a few spaces.
In contrast, upon returning to France from break, I noticed a small sign placed on the student housing buildings explaining that the school was constructing a new building in the location of all current student parking. Furthermore, the sign denoted, there would be no more parking at all for students in the area. Without an email poll, a town hall meeting or a formal announcement, the students of Paul Valery watched their small parking allocation fade away. The school giveth, and the school taketh away.
This is the very sentiment behind the privilege of driving in France, especially for students: it is a privilege and nothing more. The school and city reserve the right to undertake complex construction projects, open up archeological sites on busy streets, pedestrianize swaths of the centre-ville and eliminate parking lots. However, every time the city and state further restrict driving through higher taxation, pedestrianizing streets, or closing park lots, they augment public transport through subsidies for students, better bus and tram services and cheaper bicycle rentals. Not having a car in Montpellier is a blessing as public transport is some of the best I have ever experienced and driving is a nuisance.
The reasoning behind this movement ranges from environmental concerns: as most of the centre-ville is very old, the pollutants from cars degrade the historic charm of the city, to increasing accessibility for bikers and pedestrians. Some protest, such as Italian student of architecture, Barabara Schengetti. She stated, “When the university and city close off areas to cars they create a desert where one only finds tourists and souvenirs.” Furthermore, she stated that the surrounding tourist sites such as the aqueduct and medieval cathedrals become “dead and empty.”
Despite this side to the debate, it reaffirms the environmentally friendly approach that is more present in the European Union than anywhere else in the world. The notion that driving, one of the most central problems in dealing with many types of degradation and health concerns, is not a right for all citizens, but something that can be decreased based on the greater good for all, is a powerful one that the United States would be wise to follow.
Especially at MSU, the driving and parking problems that plague the university year after year are demonstrative of the school’s unwillingness to cauterize the real problem: a lack of comprehensive public transit and student attachment to the luxury of driving. The only way to solve this problem is to heavily restrict in-town student driving and freshman parking while utilizing the precious space of our campus and building a parking garage. It would not be a crazy idea to take a quarter of MSU’s recently donated funds to build a parking garage. Additionally, as the school makes a massive sum of money from the fees students pay in order to maintain these lots, a parking garage would be a worthwhile investment.
Furthermore, many students feel that they are justified in owning a vehicle for recreational and travel purposes. However, in Europe, for weekend trips and travel, commuting is popular and cost effective. For example, using the website BlaBlaCar.com, strangers coordinate commuter transport for a small cost of gas. Travelers can go from Montpellier, France to Barcelona, Spain for less than twenty euros minimizing the costs for the driver and taking a more environmentally conscious route.
All-in-all, many options exist for a cost-effective and space-efficient future in transportation. The city of Bozeman and the university simply must work together to help students and Bozemanites get from point A to point B without such a heated debate. Driving is a luxury American students can indeed live without, many just need to be forced into realizing this lesson with the support of the school to make the transition smooth.