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To the riotous ferment that is daily life in Boston, the local government wants to add another onerous rule—an unfair municipal regulation. The Boston City Council is considering a resolution calling for universities to withhold degrees from students who do not pay their parking tickets. This rule is dubious in its conception and wrong-headed in its approach.
Parking here in Boston is difficult, expensive or both. And for those workers and students who are forced by some compulsion or necessity to drive, there should be more parking options. With short parking supply and long demand the city should consider investing in new municipal parking garages. Of course, expanding the range of alternatives to traditional commuting and parking is laudable and necessary, but doesn’t completely relieve the need for more spots. When people need to drive into or around Boston, they also need to be able to park.
Really at stake in this resolution, however, is the proper division of rights, responsibilities and powers between students, universities and local governments. The city government has no right to determine the graduation requirements that a university should impose on its students—save perhaps universities owned and operated by the city itself. There is no place for the city to dictate school policy for the majority of the universities in the Boston area—private and state schools. It is fundamental to academic freedom that universities are able to decide these matters on their own.
This is not to say that those who break the law should go unpunished. The city has mechanisms whereby delinquents and deadbeats can be forced to pay for parking illegally. Clamping cars with “boots” and towing the unrepentant are effective ways to convince reluctant motorists to pay up. Blocking license and registration renewals until tickets are paid up is also allowed by law. And while cars and drivers registered out of state cannot be punished by the prevention of renewals, the city should not be targeting students with its proposed policy. Cooperation with outside jurisdictions might help Massachusetts secure more fines, but targeting students instead of all out of state drivers is discriminatory.
If the city wants to increase compliance with parking regulations it should make those regulations simpler and parking easier. If the city wants to take in missing revenue by collecting on outstanding parking tickets, then it should increase enforcement efforts in traditional, reasonable and non-discriminatory ways. But if the city wants to target students based on some unproven notion that students are disproportionately responsible for unpaid fines, or simply because students are a transient, vulnerable and unrepresented group, then it should think twice. Encroaching upon the academic prerogatives of the universities and specifically targeting students, the dynamic lifeblood of this region, is no way to run a city.
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