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'Duke cares more about making money than it does about its students'

Students list number of complaints regarding Duke's parking system

Everyone knows that Duke students despise UNC, but one thing they may hate even more? Parking on campus. 

Although students may not chant for it to go to hell, interviews with undergraduates revealed that the high cost of parking passes, difficulty finding spots on campus and the inconvenience of moving their vehicles during football games have left students with negative views of Duke parking.

A post by The Chronicle on the All Duke Facebook page inquiring about undergraduates’ opinions on the current state of campus parking resulted in 69 comments, 45 of which expressed explicitly negative sentiments. The remaining comments tagged friends to alert them to the post. 

“I have not met one person at Duke who is satisfied with the way they handle parking— everything from how expensive it is to the few number of spots we get,” junior Chandler Richards told The Chronicle. “I think it’s a symptom of a larger problem in that Duke cares more about making money than it does about its students."

However, having a car ended up being worth it despite high costs for Richards because she can visit her family close nearby and take frequent road trips. 

Carl DePinto, director of Parking and Transportation Services, wrote in an email that parking at Duke is a cost-recovery operation. 

“All revenue goes directly to covering the costs associated with providing parking facilities, transportation services and ongoing maintenance,” he wrote. 

Despite repeated requests, DePinto declined to talk with The Chronicle via phone, answering questions only by email. 

Steep prices

One of students’ main complaints this year was the cost of parking passes—$402 for an annual pass.

“That's really expensive for parking, and I think they charge that much because they know that we'll pay it because we have to get to campus, but it seems like extortion,” said senior Delaney Thompson, who lives off-campus. 

Junior Nadia Ford also noted that the price is much too high, especially when some students need to bring a car to campus—for driving to off-campus jobs or visiting family nearby—and have no choice but to pay the price set by Duke parking. 

The price for an undergraduate parking pass this year surprised Emmalee Mariner, who returned from a leave of absence and remembered prices being much lower when she last bought one in 2014. 

“Seeing how much prices had increased was a bit of a shock,” she said. “It just feels absurd.”

DePinto noted that the parking rate increased $12 from last year and that during the previous four years, it increased by about $30 a year.

When asked to respond to students’ complaints about the cost of the passes, DePinto wrote that Duke’s parking rates are similar to those at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

"Many of our peer institutions have restricted first-year students from even bringing cars to campus,” he wrote. “Despite increasing demands for space, Duke has managed to continue to provide parking for first-year students.” 

At North Carolina State University, resident permits that are sold on a 1-to-1 permit to space basis are $370 each year, explained Catherine Reeve, director of transportation for NCSU. However, unlike Duke, the school offers cheaper options as well. To park in residential areas further away from the heart of campus, the price is $275 a year.

NCSU has upped their permit prices in recent years, but their biggest jump was an $18 increase from the 2015-16 year to the 2016-17 year. 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also offers a range of parking permits to best suit student needs. For $444, students can buy a pass for a gated lot that they access using their student IDs, guaranteeing that their spot will be available, explained Randy Young, media relations manager for UNC. 

For a non-gated surface lot space, near roadways like Franklin Street, the cost is $338. Students can also buy a space in a peripheral lot about 1.5 miles north of campus for $255. That option is designed for students who want to keep a car in the area but will not necessarily use it every day. 

Young explained that prices have risen one to two percent occasionally in the past five years. A one percent increase on a $444 parking pass is about $4, in comparison to the $30 a year—about eight percent—Duke has increased its passes in the four years prior to last year.

However, some students would not necessarily mind the price increases, if other aspects of dealing with PTS were better. Justin Paley, Trinity ‘17, said his biggest issue was the lack of communication from PTS and their inability to acknowledge making any mistakes. 

“I just think it’s very disorganized and not very well-run,” he said. “I don't necessarily mind a slight increase [in price], but it’s less so the price and more so the way that it’s run.”

Football game pains

Students also voiced complaints about having to move their cars out of the Blue Zone during home football games.

“As a sophomore, I didn’t know people had to move their cars [from the Blue Zone],” Ford said. “That was super annoying. For the people who literally have to do something in the middle of their day so they can move their car, it’s super inconvenient.”

PTS requires students to clear their vehicles from the Blue Zone by 6 a.m. on any Saturday that Duke plays football at Wallace Wade stadium. They can return their cars approximately one hour after the game ends, according to an email from PTS that is sent out to all Blue Zone permit holders before home game weekends.

Students typically move their cars on the Friday before to avoid waking up before 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. After 3 p.m. on Fridays, students can park their vehicles at Smith Warehouse’s South Lot or the parking garage on Trent Drive. If they do not return their cars to the Blue Zone by 2 p.m. Sunday, they can be issued a ticket, the email stated.

DePinto explained that the Blue Zone is the closest lot to accommodate that influx of 30,000 people who attend football games.

“We communicate in advance with students about parking in the Blue Zone so they know what to expect on game days,” he wrote. “We try to mitigate the impact of this temporary relocation by providing alternative parking arrangements and a shuttle to transport people back to campus.”  

Mariner said that not having complete access to the Blue Zone on weekends frustrates her, especially considering the price she paid for her permit. She noted that the alternative parking at Smith and Trent is not very accessible to students and frequently fills up before she can move her car there.

The last time she had to move her car for a football game, she said only half the lot in Smith was designated for student parking and it was all full, so she had to park in a faculty spot and worried she would get ticketed.

“It’s not a good feeling to leave people with this uncertainty about doing something illegal or not when they’ve paid $400 to ostensibly be legal,” she said.

Sophomore Raisa Reed said moving her car the night before a game and then having to return it takes up a substantial amount of her time. Plus, the instructions from PTS about where she could take her car on weekends were confusing. Paley echoed this sentiment.

“Numerous times the lots they required we move to were not letting me in with my permit,” he said. “They were disorganized.”

Junior Kyle Gornick decided not to move his car from the Blue Zone this year, and it was towed. However, when he went to pick it up from the back two lots of the Blue Zone, per instructions from the Duke University Police Department, he couldn’t find it, he said. Gornick was then redirected to Central Campus where he wandered around before eventually locating his car at the corner of Erwin Road and Alexander Road.

“Probably the worst part of my Duke experience has been the parking here,” Gornick said.

Junior Tory Andrews also got towed and received a ticket for not moving her car from the Blue Zone, which cost her $245. When she had tried to move it in the past, every parking attendant told her to take it to a different location, she said.

She said she finds it aggravating that Duke charges her $400 to park in the Blue Zone but then tickets her for more than half that for not following instructions, after only one email as a heads up. 

“I don't have that kind of money to just drop on a parking ticket for just a simple mistake that I made,” she said. “I definitely learned my lesson. Duke parking makes so much money on campus because they just relentlessly tow.” 

DePinto wrote that Duke maintains specific policies regarding parking on campus and that any tickets issued are based on a violation of those policies.

“Every ticket has a corresponding photo to show the infraction,” he wrote. “There is even an appeals process and committee that reviews all citation appeals.”

Not guaranteed a spot

Another main complaint from students was not being able to find a parking spot in the Blue Zone, even though they owned a permit. 

Thompson noted that there have been times when she couldn't park in the Blue Zone and had to circle until someone left. 

“The idea that you're not guaranteed a spot in Blue Zone is ridiculous because where else are you supposed to park?” she said. “They tow you almost everywhere else.”

Due to these frustrations, she decided to either take the bus from her off-campus apartment or walk, instead of driving to campus, she said.

“Paying as much as we are and then not even being guaranteed a spot really sucks,” Ford said.  

DePinto wrote in an email that the Blue Zone this year includes 1,377 spaces. He noted that about 400 permits for graduate and professional students and staff were relocated from the Blue Zone to the new Science Drive Parking Garage.

“This has alleviated pressure and added hundreds of available spots in the Blue Zone,” he wrote.

DePinto declined to say how many Blue Zone permits were sold this year, but noted that the number of permits sold was less than the total spots available.

Others said they are able to find a spot in the Blue Zone but that it often leaves them far away from their dorms.

“There have been many times when I will go off-campus for doctors’ appointments and have to park in the very last lot when I come back,” Andrews said. “It’s such a waste of time. The location of the parking is really inconvenient.”

She said that when she has a class in an engineering quad building, it often takes her more than 30 minutes to get to class. She noted that there needs to be more parking for students that is in a convenient location.

Reed also said that when she can’t find a spot in the closer lots and has to park in the back of the Blue Zone, she feels unsafe on the walk back to her dorm.

“It just gets a little sketchier the further you park away,” she said. “It freaks me out a lot when walking in the dark.”  

DePinto noted that Duke has installed surveillance cameras at both entrances to the Blue Zone, increased lighting and installed a metal security gate at the entrance from Duke University Road to improve safety. The Blue Zone is also patrolled frequently by Duke Police, he explained.

Many students with commuter passes also noted that they find it frustrating that the Blue Zone lots designated for commuters are often filled up with people who have regular Blue Zone permits. 

However, DePinto wrote in an email that “the Blue Zone is no longer segmented into different areas for different groups. Parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis.” DePinto, who noted that designation of specific lots in the Blue Zone has evolved over time, wrote that an email was sent out to Blue Zone permit holders in January about the changes in the lot designations.


Students suggested several steps that Duke parking could take to improve the experience of those who bring cars to campus. 

Mariner noted that offering options with lower prices for students who don’t need immediate access to their cars could help. 

Richards added that it would be beneficial if everyone in the Blue Zone had assigned numbered spots. Each year, seniors would get to choose first and then juniors, sophomore and first-years. That way, students would not lose their car in the lot if they forget where they parked. Also, if they had a spot in the back of the Blue Zone and had to walk further as a first-year, at least they would know their commute would be shorter as an upperclassman.

Ford suggested a similar system with assigned spots but said the prices for spots could be based on how far from campus they are. 

“If you want a really close spot, you have to pay a lot,” she said. “If you’re don’t really care, you pay some standard rate.”

Some other schools are experimenting with alternative parking systems. Reeve from NCSU noted that universities are moving away from permit systems to “pay-as-you-go” parking. Under this system, gated lots would use license plate recognition to charge students for only the time they are in the lot. 

“[Universities] realizing number one, people don't have to come to campus every day,” she said. “If you sell a permit for whole year and it’s not being used every day, when I look at managing parking spaces, I can't sell any more permits. But if you do it based on when people come, you can maximize resources.”

This allows universities to sell the maximum amount of permits and is more cost-effective for students, she explained.  

Overall, Paley said Duke parking could decrease students’ frustrations by recognizing their mistakes when they happen, especially with wrongful tickets or not having the right lots open. 

“I don't know if there’s a good solution,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just a recognition that this situation is difficult and giving students a little leeway.” 


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