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Tickets, towing and tyranny: Duke Parking & Transportation

make Duke weird

Of the expansive list of evils at Duke, which are often exposed in The Chronicle (and another and another, and another, and another), few are more malicious and loathsome than Duke Parking & Transportation. Duke Parking & Transportation is an exploitative, money-making arm of the “non-profit” that is Duke University.

While the estimated cost of attendance at Duke is already a staggering $78,608 per year, that number does not include the toll that Duke Parking & Transportation will take on your finances. For many Duke students, having a car and a spot in which to put it is a necessity, given that getting around, whether it be to a job, internship, volunteer, or family obligations, requires a car. Nonetheless, this necessity costs Duke students a whopping $423 per year, the price of a Blue Zone permit. While there are free “After Hours” permits, this does not suffice for those who live on campus. 

At Duke, 47 percent of students receive need-based financial aid. Despite financial aid support, many students still pay more than they can afford to attend Duke, working several jobs all the while. It seems willfully ignorant to charge such an abhorrent price.

Although the Blue Zone Permit is inconvenient and absurdly priced, it’s harmless in comparison to Duke Parking & Transportation’s ticketing system. Before every football game-day, Blue Zone permit-holders are required to move their cars out of the lot they paid for into other designated Duke lots to make room for game-goers within a several-hour time-period. The day after the game, students are required to have removed their cars from the alternative parking lots by 2 p.m.

Several times, after getting out of a late rowing practice, I have had to move my car in the late evening. On these occasions I had to walk home alone at night from the Flowers lot to West Campus. Needless to say, it is extremely unsafe to be a young woman alone at night on Duke’s campus and this policy puts women in explicit danger. Moreover, I was an athlete and was required to travel on weekends to compete. Several times, when I returned to my car Monday morning, I had to beg Duke Parking & Transportation to allow me to simply exit the parking lot, as I had missed the “exit window.”

One game-day, I had an athlete pass on my car signifying I didn’t need to move my car. Unsurprisingly, I was still ticketed and towed for a whopping $250—$100 to be ticketed, $100 to be towed, and $50 for taking up a spot in the lot I was towed to. Although I was notified that I was towed, I was not given my car’s new location. I spent much of my Sunday roaming Central Campus in search of my car, for fear that I might be charged $50 for another night in the lot before they informed me of my car’s whereabouts.

Although I have now accrued $753 of Duke Parking & Transportation fees—from my Blue Zone permit to my game-day tow, to my two parking tickets, I’m sure I’m not the department’s most severe victim.

Last year, Senior Kezia Matson’s car battery died while her car was in Blue Zone and she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a new one until she got her paycheck the following week. She was as proactive about the situation as possible, leaving countless emails and voicemails. Of course, she was met with a ticket rather than a response. She reforwarded the email and in response, received a towing followed by repeated daily fines each day she was unable to move her car from the lot due to her financial situation. To add insult to injury, they could not even tell her where they had towed the car.

In the end, everything totaled up to $450, a damning price given it was her financial situation that put her there in the first place. Kezia is a low-income student who already broke the bank to buy her $423 Blue Zone pass and get her car fixed, making the $450 fine nearly impossible to pay. According to Duke Parking & Transportation’s emails, one must pay the fines “unless there are circumstances that prevent you,” but when she contacted them about this policy, she received no response. 

One night, Senior Rachel Baber was parked in the Allen lot at 9 p.m., as the Blue Zone permit allows. At 10 p.m., her car wouldn’t start and she couldn’t get a tow until car repair shops opened in the morning. Knowing full-well she could get ticketed come morning, she called Duke Parking & Transportation to inform them of the situation and inquire as to what preventative measures she could take. Apathetically, they told her there was nothing she could do except appeal the citation once it had been given. Again, on brand with Duke Parking & Transportation, her appeal was denied and despite her proactive measures, she was charged for a $40 ticket. 

This brings me to the question, why are these fines so egregiously pricey? If the purpose is deterrence, I’m sure a $20 fine would suffice. Rather than a slap on the wrist, the citations hit you with a blow to the heart and the bank. A $423 permit with a $250 fine is enough to put serious financial strain on a student, especially if money is already tight. As senior Selin Ozcelik pointed out, “We pay 63% of a yearly pass to get kicked out of the lot we paid for if we just forget to move the car once.” 

I could keep going on with these horror stories. In fact, I was recently added to a Groupme conversation called “These fines are not fine.” comprised of Duke students fed up with Duke Parking & Transportation. As I’ve learned through personal experience and the stories of my peers, Duke Parking & Transportation seems to do nothing but make students’ lives harder—assailing them with pricey permits, egregious citations and extreme inconvenience. 

So, my fellow Duke students, I urge you all to resist Duke Parking & Transportation in any way possible. When you are met with unfair tickets and tows, I urge you to resist paying to the greatest extent possible. A member of Duke Class of 2018—whom I’ll leave unnamed for obvious reasons—graduated without ever paying his thousands of dollars owed to Duke Parking & Transportation. As a result, he was handed a blank sheet rather than a diploma (although he did in fact graduate), what he considers an easy price to pay in comparison to over 50 unfair tickets. 

While this Groupme is in its earlier organizing stages, I hope to collectively devise action steps to resist and reform Duke Parking & Transportation. I believe in this group and this movement, because if there is anything that all Duke students can collectively get behind, it’s that Duke Parking & Transportation is the worst. 

Bella Miller is a Trinity senior. Her column, “make Duke weird,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly claimed that Blue Zone passes were priced at $423 per semester. The correct price is $423 per year. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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