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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Other Side Of The Predatory Towing Story: Too Much Illegal Parking in Asheville, NC

Now here's an opinion column not likely to make it to the blogs about "predatory towing." Kudos to author Karen Ramshaw for her well-written story in the Asheville Citizen-Times:
We can all agree that it is miserable to be towed. The stories and letters featured in this paper amply illustrate the frustration and anger of folks who have had this experience. One piece of the story seems to be missing, however. The vast majority of vehicles that get towed were parked illegally – on private property – that was properly signed. The criminals who illegally towed vehicles are the exception, not the rule. We tow because you are either trespassing in a residential lot or you are parked in a space that someone else is paying for.

As much as I dislike responding to angry people who disregarded the signs and were towed, it is much better than taking a call from a hysterical young tenant who had to park a few blocks away one night because her lot was full of hockey fans who didn’t want to pay for parking. She was accosted by a drunk on her walk back to her apartment. I had been reluctant to tow, but that changed. I now manage two residential lots – one used primarily by handicapped elderly people and the other by apartment residents. They have rights, too. You don’t want to come home and find strangers in your driveway; neither do they.

Plainly marked signs

We also manage two lots which combine monthly reserved parking for permit holders and daily parking. We spend thousands on signage each year in an attempt to keep people from being towed. In our large lot across from Barley’s, if you accidentally park in a monthly space and try to pay at the machine, the screen states “Stall Reserved, Tow Away Zone, Move Your Car Now.” It is difficult to get much clearer. We offer monthly spaces because employees need a place to park. These are the folks who work in the businesses that brought you downtown and they cannot afford to pay for parking they can’t access. When a line cook pulls into the lot at 3:45p.m., he is entitled to the space he pays for. We make a lot more money from our daily spaces than our monthly spaces and have considered getting rid of monthly parking entirely, but as members of the downtown community, we feel some obligation to the people who make downtown worth visiting.

City’s failings

Local government has not kept up with parking demand and there are parking deficits in many areas of our downtown. The lack of parking contributes to the towing problem as people get frustrated searching for a legal space to park and then “take a chance” and hope they won’t get towed. We call this parking roulette – do you feel lucky?

There are a lot of complaints about the high cost of being towed. It is very expensive to be towed in Asheville and the city’s own actions raised the towing fees. Prior to the city’s ordinance, the towing company I use charged $80. The ordinance increased the cost of doing business for tow companies and the fee almost doubled. We do not receive any part of the tow fee, but depend on the tow company to ensure that downtown residents and employees have access to the parking they pay for. Most downtown tow drivers are just doing their job, albeit an unpleasant one. The city passed its new ordinance without getting input from private lot owners, tow companies, their own parking director or downtown residents and employees. In one of the lots I manage, I was actually forced to decrease the size of my signs.

Time for change

The parking situation in downtown Asheville is not good and more needs to be done. Perhaps one positive result from the press on this situation will be that those long-promised meetings with the city will finally happen and a more workable solution to the parking and towing problems can be found. In the meantime, please look before you park. The space you take may belong to an elderly downtown resident on oxygen or a young woman in her first apartment or a guy making $7 an hour trying to get to his night job so he can pay rent. If the sign next to that oddly empty but very convenient parking space says “Towing Enforced,”expect your car to be gone and have your money ready. It would be better to take a few minutes and park legally – there are much better ways to spend $150.

Karen Ramshaw is the vice president of Public Interest Projects, a local investment/development company. She grew up in Asheville, lives in a downtown apartment and has a parking space in a surface lot two blocks from her home.

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