Towingfines pile up for city

Snow storms meant fines for many, but were a time for towers to make cash.

Kevin Behr

Joe Ferdig, 24, of Minneapolis had his car towed early Friday and stood in line at the impound lot with his friend Josh Freyholtz, a philosophy and psychology senior at the University.

Freyholtz called the snow emergency process “stupid.”

“They declared it at 9 (p.m.) and your car’s towed by 1 (a.m.),” he said. “It’s too hard to know if there’s a snow emergency.”

Ferdig, who had Freyholtz drive him to the lot, said the worst part about being towed is the money.

“But what’re you gonna do?” he asked.

Pay up, that’s what: up to $172 in Minneapolis.

Winter’s first big snowstorm hit the Twin Cities on Feb. 24, dumping about a foot of snow on the metro area. After snow emergencies, cars piled up in the Minneapolis impound lot as well.

According to Matt Laible, a spokesperson for the city, about 1,600 cars were towed in the three days following the storm.

A second storm piggybacked on the first Thursday. The city declared another snow emergency, but the number of vehicles towed over the weekend was not immediately available.

After a $34 parking ticket and $138 basic towing fee, the city collected about $283,000 from the first snow emergency alone.

Not all that money goes to the city, however. Minneapolis and Hennepin County split the money from the parking tickets. The rest pays the towing companies contracted out for the job and other operation and maintenance costs, Laible said.

Minneapolis pays two towing companies for year-round services and contracts three extra companies for snow emergencies and street sweeping days, Laible said.

One of the extra companies, Shorty’s Heavy Duty Wrecker Service, Inc., sends out a fleet of six trucks to help out with snow emergency tows, said Jason Anderson, an employee of Shorty’s.

“We work 10-hour shifts,” he said. “We’re pretty busy.”

Anderson did not elaborate but said snow emergencies are good for business.

Jeff Schoenborn, general manager for Chief’s Towing, Inc., another company contracted by the city, said business definitely jumps during the snow emergencies.

“Whenever you have a large event like a snow emergency,” he said, “it increases the cash flow.”

It’s not all hand-over-fist profit, however. Chief’s pays its drivers between $13 and $18 an hour and covers fuel, insurance, overhead expenses and wear and tear.

“It’s expensive for us,” he said. “But with such a volume of vehicles towed, you don’t lose money.”

Snow emergencies might be good business for towing companies, but the city loses money, Laible said.

He said Minneapolis pays the towing companies between $54 and $157 per tow while charging violators $138.

“Speaking in terms of towing expenses and revenues, we end up losing money during snow emergencies,” Laible said in an e-mail.

On top of losing money for paying towing services, the city spends about $8 million on snow removal, he said.

Laible said the city just tries to break even during the other months of the year.

Although 1,600 cars seems like a lot, at any given time there are 200,000 cars parked on Minneapolis streets, he said. During snow emergencies about 95 percent of drivers follow the rules, and only 1 percent get towed, he said.

Pat Schneeman and Danielle Boucher are new to the metro area and didn’t know the rules. Both had their cars towed, and they walked for a couple hours before a friend gave them a ride the rest of the way to the impound lot Friday.

“It stinks,” Schneeman said. “But they have to get the streets clear. If they don’t tow, it wouldn’t happen.”