Parking Peeves

by Matt Soriano | 7/3/01 5:00am

Should a moment of weakness cost a student $50?

I am a weak person. Last Wednesday, after a long day of moving my stuff and my friends' stuff from one place to another, I committed a calculated, heinous and selfishly motivated crime that insulted the Dartmouth College community in three malevolent aspects:

1) I parked in a "core area" reserved for college employees only.

2) I was not a visitor or non-permit employee.

3) I was a student.

The Dartmouth Trustees, in their infinite forgiving beneficence, decided to only charge the pittance of $50 in order to set me and my Mercury Mountaineer on the narrow and difficult path towards A-lot and salvation. I felt the grace of God on my shoulders as I resolved never to park illegally no matter what the circumstances.

Ever.

That day the avenging angels of Safety and Security saved me from burning in the lake of fire. As they bore me up on eagle's wings, though, I tossed a snowball I'd saved from the winter into the fiery pit.

It survived.

And when snowballs have a chance in hell, you know you'll start believing in our absurd system of discrimination against students, outrageous parking fines and outlandish enforcement of parking regulations.

My hometown of Princeton Borough, New Jersey -- the part of Princeton that is within about a 3 mile radius of the University -- makes a good $120,000 a year in operating profit off of parking violations. They finance the purchase of four police cruisers, but I have never experienced a ticket that cost more than $15. A quick Internet search revealed that at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, it costs $5 to park in a no parking zone. At UNH-Durham, it costs $30 and the city of Boston charges $30 to park in a no parking zone. Why is the damage that I cause in Hanover, N.H., so much worse than the damage I would have caused if I had been elsewhere? I would gladly have tracked down the poor College worker whose parking space I stole and paid for his or her five minutes of lost time, bought him or her lunch at Murphy's to prevent them from starving on their trek to the office, and oh, by the way, purchased some Dr. Scholl's insoles to protect their delicate feet. I'd still come out ahead. The College charges way too much for parking violations.

Yet the damage that a student causes is somehow far, far less than the damage that a visitor or faculty member causes when he commits the exact same violation. Yes, indeed, on a first offense, a visitor merely has to pay $20 -- still exorbitant when compared to most cities. A college employee pays nothing for his first offense. Such a just world we live in when the people who are paying to attend this institution must pay greater fines than those who are paid by the institution itself. Indeed! If this fine is more punitive in nature than it hurts the students -- who have very low net worths -- far more than it hurts the visitors or faculty members. Yes, we all know that students must be held to higher standards than other parties because we're supposed to know the rules in advance -- as if a visitor or faculty member doesn't know what he or she is doing just as well as a student!

Why was Safety and Security ruthlessly enforcing parking regulations when students were still moving in anyway? It seems like a craven grab for fine revenue to enforce regulations for students who have no other option but to park there anyway. Would that we injure ourselves looking for the right parking when there are spaces available? No. I refuse to injure myself just for principle. Safety and Security ought to look out for everyone's safety and security rather than pointlessly enforce parking regulations on a non-standard day that would be rife with technical and explainable violations.

Charging students $50 for the first parking offense is outrageous. Heck, even charging visitors $20 for the first offense is outrageous. We ought to bring Dartmouth's parking fines into line with the rest of the East Coast and the Ivy League. We ought to prevent discrimination against students. And we ought to have a little common sense with respect to enforcement.