Since the beginning of the year, garbage in Reykjavík has been collected once every ten days, rather than once a week as it was before the city council voted for drastic budget cuts. For the past few days, trash has been piling up in my backyard. I went to find out on the internet when exactly the dustmen are supposed to come by my street and do their magic. As it turned out, the convoy is six days overdue, which is why I decided to write an inflammatory email to the people responsible for the nuisance. I got a response the next morning informing me that while the calendar detailing the frequency of garbage collection in my area is accurate, access to my backstreet is very often blocked by badly parked cars. The email went on: “We will try again tomorrow at 11 am and hopefully no cars will block the entrance.”
Oh all right, that sounds legit. No, hang on a second… you will try again tomorrow? It’s not like I’m asking you to do me a favour. Collecting garbage is not exactly a matter of trial and error. Either it is done or it isn’t. I forgot about the pile of trash in my garden for a minute and started to think about another problem raised by the answer I got from city officials. Cars blocking the entrance to my backstreet… Isn’t Reykjavík equipped with tow trucks? Wouldn’t it be possible to forcibly remove offending cars from their unlawfully acquired parking spaces?
For as long as I have been living in this town, I’ve noticed that drivers have a tendency to park their cars anywhere, with neither consideration for pedestrians nor for other drivers. It is not uncommon to see people pushing a stroller crossing to the other side of the street because of a car parked on the sidewalk, while in such a situation, a person in a wheelchair is left to their own fate. Foreigners in town are often surprised at how drivers in Reykjavík parallel park. More often than not, your typical driver in Reykjavík will steer front first into the parking space rather than slowly driving backwards into it. Several reasons can explain this kind of behaviour: the lack of driving skills, the lack of consideration for others, but mostly the lack of a penalty for parking like an incompetent and inconsiderate pig on wheels.
While drivers in downtown Reykjavík can be sure that they will get a ticket the minute they exceed the parking time they paid for, they needn’t worry about getting their car towed away for blocking a sidewalk, a fire hydrant, or access to my backstreet. Only in Reykjavík have I seen cars parked on speed bumps or on roundabouts. I tried Googling the price of a ticket for illegal parking plus towing fee. It seems to add up to around 30.000 ISK. Looking out my kitchen window, I can already see 60.000 ISK worth of uncollected community money. If I were to walk to the end of my street that amount could reach 150.000 ISK. But instead of harvesting the bountiful amounts of low-hanging fruits, local authorities have decided to space out the frequency of garbage collecting, leaving me to contemplate the pile of crap in my garden, expecting that dustmen will hopefully come by after the weekend and try again.
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