Our University proximity cards are powerful tools that give us access to our food, beds, groceries, books and entertainment. A lesser known feature of the cards is that our prox use is tracked in a database that Public Safety monitors during emergencies. The Honor Committee can consult this database during investigations, and administrators can access it for various purposes.
The prox is so powerful and versatile because it is equipped with multiple technologies that allow it to interact with several systems. The first is the Radio Frequency Identification tag, which consists of simply integrated circuits and a coiled antenna. The second is the old-fashioned magnetic strip, capable of storing data by aligning the magnetic fields of tiny iron-based particles on a band of material on the card. Nearly every commercial outlet uses the magnetic stripe technology to sell its wares — that is, they accept credit and debit cards. Yet despite our nearly constant use of these technologies on campus, Princeton has failed so far to take advantage of the potential new relationships created by their wider use.
I firmly believe we should be able to use our proxes on Nassau Street and its environs to make purchases. The Yale, George Washington and NYU student identification cards do this in their respective local shopping districts. It would be all the more convenient if Qdoba, Panera, Starbucks, Olives and Bent Spoon purchases could be charged to our Princeton accounts. Everyone gets tired of dining hall food at some point, and variety can be healthy and liberating.
The technology needed to allow for Nassau purchases is already in place and is even in use at the Labyrinth bookstore, where it allows for the easy purchasing of school supplies. The costs of integrating non-Princeton stores into the Princeton prox program are far outweighed by the benefits to students. Some of the potential costs include the process of technology placement as well as the cost of upkeep. Vendors often have to pay a kickback to the card company (either Princeton or a credit card company that Princeton signs on with to make our proxes available for payment). Local stores may find it hard to pay these fees since their income is naturally smaller than chains, although Starbucks and Panera shouldn’t be affected by these sorts of charges. On the other hand, the potential influx of Princeton student customers is a long-term cash-flow increase. It would be even better if the Nassau food venues were part of the University meal plan, but this is a far more ambitious goal. I could imagine that Dining Services would suffer if it had to compete with Nassau for every student at every meal.
I have to believe that the Nassau venues would benefit from increased accessibility by the students; if it were easier and more efficient for Princeton students to shop and dine on Nassau, they would do so more frequently. This would allow the smaller venues to accept prox payment despite some additional costs. And if the non-University stores are worried about the credit of the student customers (when we charge items to our proxes we do not pay immediately but rack up charges), Paw Points could be considered as an alternative payment method — they represent money deducted immediately upon purchase. This approach would also bolster general Paw-Point purchasing.
At the very least, the U-Store should be prox-enabled; Studio’ 34, the C-Store and every other on-campus food venue is. Although I understand that the U-Store is not owned by the University, that hardly seems like a terrible barrier to entry.
The ease with which I purchase things from Studio’ 34 creates a positive shopping experience. I do not need to carry my wallet, I do not get asked for identification and I do not need to go to an ATM because I have no cash (I am looking at you, Small World). For these reasons, I always love going to on-campus stores that take my prox. Positive relationships with commercial venues are formed when the shopping process is easy, seamless and quick. If my Panera experience were like my Studio’ 34 experience, I would dine there more frequently. If the University and downtown shopping venues were to work together to allow prox purchasing, they would create a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby students would have easier, more appealing access to outside food, stores would have more customers and Princeton University would create a positive, working relationship with its neighbors.
Aaron Applbaum is a sophomore from Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com.