Recently, University Transportation and Parking Services announced a new policy that allows undergraduate students to have a car on campus only if they have a “compelling need.” This change in policy was released very suddenly to the University community, with no input from the broader student body or opportunity for discussion. The Board finds the policy’s standard of “compelling need” to be too narrow, unnecessarily restrictive of students’ use of cars and potentially intrusive to students’ privacy. The Board condemns the lack of transparency exhibited by University administration, TPS and Undergraduate Student Government on this important issue, and we urge a return to the former policy.
In the past, any upperclassman who wished to have a car on campus was able to do so. Students used their cars to buy food as independent students, for religious observances, to participate in club sports or other extracurricular activities, to travel and for a variety of other reasons. In short, students judged if it was beneficial for them to have a car on campus and made their own informed decisions.
Now, due to vague appeals to space concerns and sustainability, the University seeks to make this decision for students. In order to have a car on campus beginning this fall, students must submit an exemption request to a bureaucratic committee and convince it that they do in fact have a “compelling need” —as defined by the University —to park on campus. Though the list of what constitutes a compelling need has broadened following student reaction to the policy, the new policy still has the potential to prevent students who have good reasons to have a car on campus from doing so. Permission to park will only be granted to those students whose needs cannot be met by University or NJ Transit programs. But even for students who could take the Saturday Shopper or the train to fulfill their needs, doing so may be more expensive and time-consuming than driving.What's more, forcing any student to have their need to drive off campus from time to time scrutinized by University officials inappropriately and unfairly intrudes on students’ privacy. If a student requires a car for a medical reason, for example, the new policy requires them to submit the details of their condition to a Committee that includes representatives from several offices, including Athletics, University Health Services, ODUS, TPS and more, all in the hope that they might be deemed worthy of a parking pass.
In addition to the many practical problems that this policy raises, the Board judges it to be motivated by insufficient concerns. One of the primary announced reasons for the change was the amount of space currently occupied by student cars. However,the number of student cars on campus has decreased almost 40 percent over the last four years, down to only 290 cars this academic year. According to an email from Assistant Vice President for Communications, Daniel Day, the parking spots gained by this new policy will be utilized to provide more faculty and visitor parking. Especially given the small number of students who currently park on campus, the Board finds the administration’s prioritizing of visitor parking over student parking very concerning. The University also hopes to promote more “sustainable” transportation options through this policy change. But the alternatives mentioned — Zagster bike share, University buses, Enterprise CarShare—are either not feasible or simply lack the capacities of a privately owned car. Students cannot safely travel very far off campus using a bike and University bus routes are inconsistent and slow. CarShare requires a lengthy registration process and is expensive even for a short trip. The Board believes these supposedly more sustainable options are not adequate substitutes, particularly if students already own vehicles.The Board commends the student-led movement discussing this change, but condemns the lack of opportunities for student input afforded by TPS and USG during the lengthy decision process. While USG did not actively participate in the decision-making process, they were informed that changes would be made starting in February. Given the effect of the change on many students, the extent to which this change was obscured from the student body until it was made is extremely problematic. Transparency and student involvement—beyond USG—are necessary whenever a policy change of this importance is being considered.
We hold that students should not have to prove that they do, in fact, have a compelling need to have a car on campus. It ought not to be left to a committee to judge whether or not the complex combination of factors that motivates students to decide they need to have a car is convincing and compelling. Given the unduly restrictive approval process, the potential for violations of privacy, and the unconvincing motivations for change, the Board urges the administration to reverse this ill-advised policy.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.