Towing pulls in big business

Elizabeth Cook

Last year, Adria Zwack had her car towed on the street by University Commons.

The nutrition sophomore said there were no signs around saying that she couldn’t park there. She said she took pictures, but decided to not go to court for it. She paid the fee and got her car back.

“I was pretty annoyed,” she said.

Zwack’s car was one of approximately 42,000 that are towed each year from the streets and alleys in Minneapolis to the Minneapolis Impound Lot. With the winter months approaching, snow emergencies and towed cars will be a priority for many drivers.

Snow emergency towing is still a problem, but there is 95 percent compliance to the parking rules, said Mike Kennedy, director of winter operations for Minneapolis Public Works.

There are 200,000 to 250,000 people trying to park vehicles on the streets of Minneapolis each day, Kennedy said. For one snow emergency, which lasts three days, there are an average of 8,000 to 9,000 tickets issued. Only 25 percent of those ticketed get towed, he said.

Those cars end up in the impound, which, since it opened in 1983, has generated $3.6 million in revenue for the city, according to the Minneapolis Finance Department.

In 2004, the revenue from the impound lot was $1.2 million, up from $393,266 in 2003.

The large increase is attributed to the cars that are sold when owners don’t come to claim them, said Matt Laible, spokesman for the city of Minneapolis. Sometimes they are sold to dealers and sometimes they are sold for scraps.

One of the main reasons for the spike in revenue for 2004 is because the price of scrap went up, he said.

The system of towing has been operating the same way since the 1980s, and Laible said there are going to be busier years and slower years.

The revenue goes to traffic enforcement, city meters, parking ramps and the impound lot itself, he said.

It costs $138 to get a vehicle out of the impound lot, Kennedy said, and a $34 parking ticket comes along with it.

The reason not everyone gets towed is that there are only 70 or 80 tow trucks among the five companies contracted with the city, Kennedy said.

During a normal day, the city is broken into two zones, the north and the south. There are two companies that operate in these zones ” Schmit Towing, which charges the city $54.07 a tow and Corgan Transport, which charges $64.96, Kennedy said.

When there is street cleaning ” which happens for five weeks in October and November and five weeks in April and May ” or snow emergencies, the city is broken into six zones with additional towing companies, Kennedy said.

Chief’s Towing charges $135.45 a car in one of its zones and $140.70 in another, Kennedy said.

Wrecker Service charges $126 and Shorties Towing charges $157.50.

It’s “supply and demand,” Kennedy said.

The city sometimes has to pay extremely high prices, Kennedy said, especially when it is in dire need of tow trucks.

There are even times when it snows that the city has to pay the contractor more than what is collected from ticketed car owners, Kennedy said.

Knowing the rules of parking is what keeps third-year graduate student Beth Ziemba from having her car towed.

“I’ve always known by fliers,” she said. “I just kind of move it when it’s supposed to be moved.”

Ziemba said she also knows it’s time to move when she notices all the other cars in her neighborhood doing so.

“If we don’t have a snow emergency, the street isn’t going to get cleaned,” she said.

Human resource development junior Katie Seurer said she also relies on other cars to know where hers should be.

“Just follow what everyone else (is) doing and hope it’s the right thing,” Seurer said.

Seurer also said the snow emergency signs aren’t that effective.

It would help to have the directions on them, Seurer said.

But there are other options when there is a snow emergency, said Art Kistler, the manager of the maintenance department for University Parking and Transportation Services.

SnOasis, which is an alternative parking solution offered by the University and the city, allows drivers to park their cars for free or reduced rates in the ramps for the first night of the snow emergency until 8 a.m.

The Fourth Street, Oak Street, and 21st Avenue parking ramps are participants of the program.