There was a howl of protest a couple of weeks ago when Belfast International Airport decided to charge motorists £1 for the privilege of dropping off or picking up at the kerb outside the terminal. Taxi drivers who serve the airport were particularly annoyed since the new charge would cost them £70 or £80 a week.
Clergymen and other regular visitors may now wish to begin their own campaign in view of car parking charges at our major hospitals. My pastoral work requires regular visits to our local Craigavon Area Hospital where car parking charges have been introduced in recent months. I am having to learn not to leave home on pastoral work without sufficient cash to cover the hospital car park. 50p is normally adequate for my calls at Craigavon.
This past week I have had two members of my congregation seriously ill in two Belfast hospitals, and have been visiting them. A visit to the Royal Victoria Hospital costs me £1.20 and one to the Belfast City Hospital costs £1. Altogether I have paid out more than £5 in car parking charges at hospitals this past week.
In one sense, it’s not a lot of money, and undoubtedly the car park owners and the health trusts can justify the charge. In a climate of major spending cuts, it’s more than likely that these kind of charges will continue to rise. But I’m annoyed that I have spent as much in parking my car at hospitals this week as would feed a hungry person in Africa for a month.
So do I have an alternative? I suppose I could walk or ride my bike to Craigavon Hospital. But to ride a bike to the Belfast hospitals or to use public transport just isn’t realistic. Or I suppose I could simply count my blessings and thank the Lord that I have a car, fuel, am able to drive, and most importantly, can walk back to my car and drive home again from the hospital. Many of those I visit would love to be able to do that.