Park at Your Own ($50) Risk

by / editorial (0) in Opinions /

The recent increase in fines for parking violations — from  $10 to $50 for a single ticket — brings our attention to the complex relationship between students and Public Safety officials at the College. Public Safety plays an important role by protecting students, faculty and staff and working tirelessly to ensure that the college community is safe, an aspect of our lives here that we too often take for granted. Clearly, parking rules are required in a college community, and proper punishment for breaking those rules is entirely appropriate. Logically speaking, raising the fines associated with parking violations may be effective in reducing the number of tickets issued and ensuring compliance. However, while we recognize the need for greater adherence to parking rules and understand the intentions behind Public Safety’s action, in this instance we believe the punishment is disproportionately harsh for the crime.

A fine of $50 for a one-time parking violation represents a five-fold increase from the previous fine, a notable rise in a cost for students. The fact that this increase has taken effect when parking is already officially limited due to construction across campus is also problematic. In addition, the all-student email Public Safety sent out failed to adequately explain why reducing the discrepancy between ticket prices and towing costs necessitated an increase in parking fines. For all those whom this change may affect, the rationale behind such action needs further clarification.

There are a variety of ways to address parking problems, each of which would more appropriately decrease violations than the recent fine increase. The goal of these suggestions is simple: to better align the severity of the punishment with the extent of the crime. Public Safety could still increase ticket prices, but to a lesser degree; a $20 fine, for example, may be enough to alter student behavior while also demonstrating greater consideration for student finances. Public Safety could also clarify the parking rules by providing comprehensive maps of campus parking lots and designated spots on its website. Posting such maps in dining halls and academic buildings at the beginning of each semester would also provide the student body with more access to this information. Another option would be to raise the number of violations students may receive before their cars are officially kicked off campus. Finally, to increase accountability, students should be able to pay their parking tickets directly; currently, fines are automatically billed to the student’s account and the true cost may not be felt by the person who violated parking rules.

Above all, we ask that Public Safety be reasonable when issuing tickets for parking violations. If an upperclassman’s vehicle is parked for a short period of time in an otherwise empty lot reserved for sophomores, for example, a fine of $50 may not be necessary; a one-time warning would likely be enough to alter that student’s future parking decisions. For the sake of the relationship between Public Safety and students, it is important that the College value the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.

Stepping back, we recognize that the ability to have a car on campus is a privilege for students, one that is inherently tied to a simple responsibility: park in the appropriate spot. Not every college allows all students to have cars on campus, and Middlebury students, first-years in particular, are especially lucky in this regard. As student drivers, we are stakeholders not only in the parking system, but also in the broader college community. Parking compliance is a sign of respect for others who use campus lots, as well as for Public Safety officials who monitor the parking lots and issue fines for violations.

While owning a car may be a privilege, it is an important aspect of life in a rural setting such as Vermont. Having a car, or a friend with a car, expands the Middlebury bubble, as it enables trips off campus to explore Burlington for the day or hike Snake Mountain, for example. We care about parking because it has logistical implications. Do I have to park far from my dorm? Can I make it to my class in time if I’m driving back from off-campus? We know that Public Safety is aware of these student concerns and appreciate their efforts to foster a better parking system on campus. However, we ask that the punishment fit the crime and that the rationale behind such changes be better communicated in the future.