McCormack Speaks

Time to Ditch Street-Cleaning Tows

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by Chadi Salamoun, McCormack Graduate School student

tow truckTurning the corner from March to April means two things for winter-weary New Englanders: they’ve survived another abusive winter (amen) and better weather is right around the corner (AMEN!). Spring carries with it many happy thoughts: the start of baseball season, shorts, barbeques, long walks along the Charles, blooming flowers, friendlier Bostonians, and more.

It also means the start of street-cleaning season and the inevitable dispersion of bright orange or green tickets. For the next eight months, car owners without driveways will check and double-check parking signs, drive endlessly in search of legal parking spots, and lunge from their beds to the ominous roar of a not-so-distant sweeper.

The monetary penalty for failing to move your car for street sweeping varies by district. No matter the cost, there aren’t many worse ways to start off your morning than the sight of a neon-bleached piece of paper perched on your windshield.  However, after centuries of germ-induced plagues, we can all agree that street-cleaning is … well, essential. Penalties to ensure compliance with street cleaning are also essential.

However, some cities take street-cleaning penalties beyond just ticketing; owners who fail to move their cars in some municipalities (such as Boston) are subject to towing. These residents awaken to find their cars have been towed and are sometimes forced to take time off from work to retrieve them. In addition to the ticket, they are required to pay the cost of towing and storage, with most of the charge going into the coffers of the towing company. Suddenly, a $35-$40 ticket is well over $100.

Is towing a person’s vehicle for street cleaning really necessary? After reading through an online thread, I found many of the vocal non-violators to be in favor of towing; they are quick to blame lazy and irresponsible residents. The law, after all, is spelled out for them on signs posted on every street.

This line of reasoning discounts various scenarios. What if a fellow citizen is ill? Or stranded at an airport? Or spent the night at a hospital aside a dying relative? There are many scenarios where laziness does not account for the reasons why residents fail to move their cars. That is why there is a ticket appeals process. In any of these circumstances, I do not believe towing a person’s vehicle is necessary. The burden placed on the owner outweighs the “crime.”

Let’s move beyond towing and follow the lead of Charlestown where higher fees replaced a policy of towing. Other Boston residents pay a $40 parking ticket and are subjected to a $120 tow ($85 of which goes to the tow company). Charlestown residents will face an increased parking ticket of $90-95 but be spared the tow. Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, a supporter of the new policy, said the new rules would mean more revenue for the City of Boston; every dime paid will go to city revenue. It will also mean less disruption to hard working Bostonians grinding out a living.

For the high majority of residents, a frequent $40 ticket is enough to get people to move their cars on time … we don’t need the additional tow charge. Though we can debate the ethics of a regressive flat tax fee and the disproportionate burden it places on poorer residents, we should all agree that towing a person’s vehicle is a bit over the top.

Chadi Salamoun studies public administration at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

One Comment

  1. nice post, Chari!

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