Living in New Jersey, I had the convenient option of loading my car up, driving it to campus and unpacking all my stuff as I moved into year two of my Princeton journey. After a few hours of moving bags and boxes into my room and saying farewell to my family, I had one final thing to do: say goodbye to my precious Toyota Rav 4. Not yet belonging to an eating club and not having what the university calls “a compelling need” to have a car on campus, I had to watch as my family took my car back home, leaving me in the suburban bubble of central New Jersey.
As I remember from my first year, transportation to get away from Princeton isn’t exactly robust. Therefore, my only means to get off campus were the Dinky/bus, an Uber, or — most efficiently — my own two feet. But why is that the case? As the owner of a working vehicle, why should I have to constantly rely on other means of transportation? Examining this problem reveals an issue of privilege versus accessibility.
With the addition of Perelman and another residential college yet to be named, the physical landscape of campus will expand to include more living and recreational spaces for students. This will presumably include dorms, a dining hall, some sort of library, maybe even a volleyball court. Even with the new space and amenities, however, I believe campus would still be incomplete. You may ask: what else could be added to campus to complete it? The answer: a parking lot exclusively for the cars of undergraduates. While many upperclass students may park their cars in eating club parking lots and parking facilities are available for graduate students, underclass students are not afforded the same accessibility.
Near the Dinky, there is already a parking station where: a) the intended purpose of the station is for employees of the University and b) the price of leaving your car is exorbitant. The fee for an undergraduate student to park a car is currently $350 and requires “a compelling need” to acquire a parking permit. Presumably, the limited number of spaces for cars justifies the permit and gives rise to the need to properly reserve a space to store a car. Student fees, however, account for a considerable 17 percent of the school’s operating budget. With all of the endowment, tuition, and other things of the like that the school already receives, the $350 fee that the few students with a “compelling need” pay is surely not making a dent in the budget of the University.
While discussing the $350 parking permit, the accumulated fees don’t contribute much to the University relative to its large endowment. In contrast, however, the price tag is considerably expensive to many individual students. Even if the “compelling need” aspect of parking a car were eliminated, the fee should also be removed as a way of making the parking lot equally accessible to all students. Simply because you don’t have the money to pay for a permit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to have your car on campus.
Every student should have the option of parking a car on campus for free, regardless of their class year — especially in light of Princeton’s suburban location. Unlike Columbia or Harvard, both universities with multiple public transportation options located in large cities, Princeton’s options of transportation are inefficient, inconvenient, and uneconomical compared to a car. There is the bus, which limits where a student can go depending on the schedule and does not run on demand. There is the train, with similar problems as a bus, with a schedule and limited options as to where to go while also being more expensive. Another final alternative mode of transportation is Uber. Going somewhere as close as the mall, however, costs more than $20 round trip. Compared to having your own car, all of these options are highly inefficient.
Therefore, I propose getting rid of the fee and creating a new parking lot for undergraduates to park their cars. The few students who do pay the $350 fee do not make a significant difference to the University budget, since so many students do not meet the “compelling need” prerequisite imposed by the University. This realization underscores the fee’s ultimate superfluousness and supports the idea of it being taken away.
With the fee gone, more students could take advantage of having a car and having mobility while living on campus. In actuality, this is secondarily an issue of mobility and primarily an issue of accessibility. With the fee imposed, only those financially able to pay $350 can store a car. Getting rid of both these conditions would give students both more mobility and more accessibility.
Elijah Benson is a sophomore from Newark, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.