According to the Brookings Institution, fees, and more specifically parking fines, are “often used as a surcharge to fund local government services” while also serving as a form of punishment for violating a municipal code or law. Often people in poor financial circumstances find themselves having to choose between paying off these fines or paying for food, rent, and other necessities. Parking fines and fees deeply impact the lives of Americans, and a large share of the financial burden falls on low-income individuals. As a result, financial penalties for rule violations continue to propagate an unequal system.
Williams College operates under a similar parking fine system, which puzzles me because, as a college with a $4 billion endowment, it seemingly has no need whatsoever for its students to provide a revenue stream through parking tickets. Although the College “generously” offers two warnings a year for non-major and non-moving violations of the parking rules, there remains a laundry list of rules and regulations for parking student vehicles on and around campus that heavily and unnecessarily restrict parking. Worse yet, the smallest fine for a parking violation is $50. This means that after those two warnings, students must pay a minimum of $50 to the College even for minor infractions that harmed, endangered, and restricted no one. It is not fair for certain students to have to constantly be anxious about where they have parked their car on a campus that often has an abundance of available parking almost all the time, and especially overnight, just because they are not able to afford the cost of their couple of mistakes.
I understand that the College must enforce some parking rules. It makes sense to prohibit students from parking in faculty and staff lots during working hours. It also makes sense to prohibit students from parking in fire lanes, service vehicle areas, and handicapped spots. However, I do not think that the same rules that apply to local government need to apply to our campus.
What I find very confusing is why a $50 penalty exists for forgetting my car is parked behind Sawyer until 8 a.m. the next morning. Or why a second $50 penalty exists for parking in a restricted area for 20 minutes with my hazards blinking while transporting heavy materials into a building. These are small infractions that do not need to be punished so harshly.
Furthermore, it seems overly harsh to be that restrictive to students especially because some students are not capable of paying these fees without putting themselves in difficult financial situations. Williams is full of available parking spots, yet students sometimes find themselves needing to park in a lot that is very far away and end up in difficult situations such as the one I was in, carrying heavy wood across campus, in order to avoid significant financial burden.
There are students on this campus who will not suffer nearly the same consequences as others simply because the punishment for a parking violation here is a monetary cost. An unpaid balance of $100 in one student’s account is entirely different from the same unpaid balance in another’s account. Students should not need to owe money for parking in the wrong places because the revenue stream that comes from it is entirely unneeded. According to the Provost’s Office, the College already makes approximately $80 million a year off of tuition (with families paying an average of $39,500 a year) and $34 million a year from the Alumni Fund and the Parents Fund. What Williams needs is a more equitable way to continue to enforce parking policies on campus, which could take the form of service hours, a requirement for a rules and safety class session, and in more extreme cases, a probation or suspension of motor vehicle privileges. If money is no object for the school at large, money should not be placing an undue burden on students.
Aliya Klein ’22 is a political economy and religion major from Potomac, Md.