Duke's ticket rates top peers in survey

Ever grumble that Duke's parking fines are high? Well, you're right. In a comparison of 15 leading colleges and universities, Duke comes out far above its peers in a number of parking fine categories.


  Gross disparities exist between Duke and the other schools surveyed in the categories of landscape, fire lane and handicap-zone parking. While fines are sometimes reduced in the appeals process, the University is higher than average in several other categories--including having a fraudulent permit, having no permit or parking in a service space--and is only appreciably below average for improper display of permits, the most minor of fines.


  In the fall of 2002, Duke doubled its fines for landscape and fire lane parking to $100 and $200, respectively, and more than doubled the handicap-zone parking fine from $100 to $250. Except for an identical handicap-zone rate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, no other school surveyed comes close to Duke in any of these three categories.


  "We have to look at where we have parking problems and design those parking fines to deter those violations," said Cathy Reeve, director of parking and transportation services . "What we have assessed is that we have had a serious enough problem that we want to set those fines to try and deter it."


  The rate hikes have apparently worked, as the number of violations in those three areas declined dramatically from 2001-2002 to 2002-2003. Excluding appeals, landscape citations went from 2,148 to 682, fire lane citations went from 1,397 to 1,119 and handicap-zone citations went from 509 to 273.


  Reeve said schools vary in their responsiveness to parking fine rates.  

  "If you make it so [North Carolina State University] does $50 [for landscape violations], $50 obviously works there," she said. "If we put it down to $50, people [may] say 'Fifty, what's the big deal, I can come back and park here.'"


  A number of other factors help explain Duke's uniquely high parking fines. Reeve said given the layout of the University--such as the desire for parking near Chapel Quadrangle but lack thereof--students and employees are sometimes more prone to parking illegally. Furthermore, she noted that parking permits are readily available and relatively inexpensive, necessitating firm consequences for rule-breaking.


  "There's not a real reason to park illegally," she said. "Duke offers its students parking, and you've also got a way to get around with the bus and the van. We've got the resources to get people around. Parking fines should not even be an issue."


  They are literally a non-issue at Yale University, one of the few schools that does not levy parking fines at all.


  "From most of what I've heard of parking fines, it's a logistical nightmare," said Joan Carroll, Yale parking and transit manager. "We need the space more than we need the income, and normally if we have a problem in the parking lot, we will just tow cars."


  For Duke, however, parking fines are a key source of revenue. The money goes to a general fund that pays for sidewalk repairs and other maintenance and operations costs.


  On the other hand, the City of Durham is even more cash-strapped than the University but its parking fines are markedly lower. In line with many of the universities surveyed, Durham fire lane violations are only $50 and handicap-zone violations are $100.


  Despite the unpopularity of Duke's high parking fines, Reeve defends the system. "I know with some people this is a really sore subject: 'Why are people taking my money? It's a hardship to try to park!' The incentive for us to write the ticket is to keep the campus safe and to make sure that people who have paid for parking have a place to park," Reeve said. "It is, believe it or not, a customer service."


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