When Stephen Coyle got two parking tickets in June on campus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he flirted with the idea of paying the $110 in fines with pennies.
But when the 26-year-old student discovered how the money collected through fines is used, he said he resolved to turn that idea into a form a protest, by way of 11,000 pennies.
“I started digging deeper of what the money was used for and 80 percent is redistributed to other schools instead of keeping it on campus,” Coyle told ABC News. “That’s what upset me, which led to paying with the pennies.”
“I understand why the citations were there, so that wasn’t the issue,” he said. “We have a beautiful campus, but there’s some severely neglected buildings. Lecture halls have missing seats, ceiling tiles are missing — some of that money can be reinvested into the buildings.”
Prior to paying his tickets, Coyle said he found the following information, which the university lists on the parking services section of its website.
“According to North Carolina law, the University is only allowed to retain 20% of the money collected from parking citations. The remaining 80% must be remitted to the state to support local public schools (elementary, middle and high schools). The 20% that UNC Charlotte is allowed to keep is earmarked to cover operating costs for parking enforcement,” according to the website.
In order to raise awareness, Coyle said, he went to three local banks and got $110 worth of pennies — 11,000 coins in total.
“There were 25 dollars in each box and 50 rolls,” he added. “I brought the pennies in loose — in three separate buckets.”
Coyle said he emailed a supervisor in parking and transportation services at UNCC to explain why he’d be paying his fine with coins.
“She gave me some opposition as far as me paying in pennies, saying I had to count them in front of her,” Coyle said. “I argued that I’ve never been in a situation where I had to pay for something and count the money myself. I told her I would do my best to ensure the accuracy, but in the end it was their responsibility, not mine. I was really nice about it.”
Because pennies are legal currency, the office had to accept them, said Coyle, who was then able to make an appointment to pay his bill.
It took two of the office’s employees three hours and 40 minutes to count the coins, Coyle said.
“I apologized immediately when I gave them the change, saying it was a part of the protest I was doing,” Coyle said. “They were fine with it. The only person that seemed pretty upset was their manager.”
The university released the following statement to ABC News.
“Regarding the student who paid his traffic fines in pennies, our understanding is that he paid in pennies to symbolize his dissatisfaction with a North Carolina constitutional mandate. That mandate requires that most of the money from such fines be remitted to the Office of State Budget Management to support public schools, rather than used on campus. The University appreciates the student’s interest and initiative in learning more about the functioning of government.”
In the long run, Coyle said he’d like to have the state statute overturned so that every school will be able to keep their fines and reinvest in their own student body.
He added that he’s been approached by a number of UNCC students and alumni who are willing to participate in his “Let Them Count” protest, which he’s been promoting on a community Facebook page.