UBC stands for the University of British Columbia but recently a new acronym emerged: University of Beautiful Cars. This was coined by an anonymous blogger who refers to himself or herself as Campus Squirrel and whose Tumblr blog showing off photos of the ultra-expensive vehicles often spotted in campus parking lots has been shared on Facebook en masse in recent days. There are photos of a McLarens, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Aston Martins and more. (We asked for an interview, but CS won’t reveal his or her true identity.)
Initially, I viewed it as yet more support for Vancouver’s culture of conspicuous consumption, something I discussed in a previous commentary. But the tagline,”Where some students drive Maseratis to school while others commute for hours,” suggests the creator may actually be worried about all that consumption, rather than supportive.
As someone who has occasionally driven to school (not a Maserati, mind you, and only when I had an important exam or presentation) but usually used public transit, I am all too familiar with the exhaustion, anxiety and physical discomfort the latter wreaks compared to the restfulness of driving or being driven. The buses to UBC are frequently operating over capacity, especially during peak hours, leaving students on the street corners as they pass by. Getting off the bus wet, tardy and irritable, I have often been struck by the irony of coming face to face with a luxury car and its gawking driver, and thinking, “so this is how the other half lives.”
During my time at UBC, where I finished my English and History degree last year, I overheard fellow students complaining about mounting student loans or considering dropping out of school due to the ever-increasing tuition and living costs. With the rise of unpaid internships and an unaffordable housing market, present-day Vancouver is not an equal playing field for young graduates.
A proposed $3-billion subway line along Broadway Ave. to UBC would considerably reduce inequality among students by making their daily lives less stressful so they can focus more on studying and getting ahead. While rich students shouldn’t have to apologize for wealth that their parents worked hard for, the inequality situation in Vancouver has become extreme. Metro Vancouver has the highest number of luxury vehicles per capita in North America, according to a local car expert, and I don’t doubt it after seeing all the cars on University of Beautiful Cars.
So less well-off students can be forgiven for jealously snapping a photo of convertibles on campus with their ancient phones as they silently curse another late bus. It’s also easy to see why they might support the subway line, even if it means asking the government for funding.