Dear Parking Guru,
I cannot believe it. Really, I can’t. I got towed today. TWICE! I researched the web to see if I have any recourse, and in the process discovered you and your plethora of information about parking, but nothing about my situation, so I am now writing, hoping you can help.
Here’s what happened. Last night I took a cab home from a party with a new friend to her place last night. This morning I bolted straight up from a deep sleep and said out loud, “Oh no. My car!” I remembered I had left my car in one of those 6 am to 9 am morning tow away zones. It was 9 am. Rather than rushing to where I parked, I called SFMTA to see if it had in fact been towed. It had. So, I called in sick to work and enjoyed the rest of the morning. My friend gave me a ride to the tow yard that afternoon. It cost me $525. I had no idea it was so expensive. I had never been towed before and I think it is outrageous. I maxed out my credit card, paid, and drove home. It’s been a crappy day.
Just a few hours ago, as I left my house to meet my friend for dinner, I realized my car was gone. It had been a surreal day already, so I first questioned my own reality. At first I thought it was stolen. I called the police, they told me to check with SFMTA. I called them, and found out that my car had been towed. Again. This time for blocking a driveway. But, I know I wasn’t blocking anybody’s driveway. I don’t have another $500 to get it out a second time. I used the last of my savings and maxed my card out to pay for the first tow.
So Parking Guru, please tell me that there is a rule that states that a car can only be legally towed once in a day. Tell me that I have recourse against the wrongful tow. Please help!
Well, I agree, it has been a bummer of a day for you. However, on the bright side, you have made it into the parking hall of fame. Of all the parking stories that I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot, I have never heard of somebody getting towed twice in one day. This is one of those stories that will be a funny one to tell in a few years.
Now, for answers to your questions. Regarding the first tow, you can look at it two ways. Yes, $525 is a huge amount of money for making a simple mistake. However, it did take many people’s time and energy to call a tow truck, tow your car, store your car, be responsible for your car, and do all of the paperwork. Another way to look at it is that perhaps $525 is getting off lightly. If your car was blocking a major morning commuter lane for an hour, your simple mistake probably adversely affected over 7,000 cars and bicycles. If it were up to those people to assess the fine and penalty, I’m thinking that a $7000 fine and immediately crushing and recycling your car would have been be a reasonable consequence in their minds.
Regarding your second tow, I have an idea about what might have happened. The part of a curb that slopes down to a driveway is actually considered part of the driveway, not the curb. I will wager that your car was a few inches into that space, which technically is considered “blocking” a driveway. Even if those sloped tips of the curb were not painted red, it’s still part of their driveway. It can be seen as a technicality in some cases, but to some residents with narrow driveways on narrow streets, those few inches really make a difference getting in and out. In all blocked driveway tows, a resident must call to report it, and be there when the SFMTA officer arrives, so being towed in this case doesn’t just happen willy-nilly on the whim of an parking enforcement officer.
Now, for some solutions to help ease your pain. The first is to go down to SFMTA and request an emergency tow hearing. Explain what happened, the administrator will look at the notes, look at your parking violation history, and determine if it was indeed a wrongful tow. Another thing that you may not be aware of. Instead of paying the fine, there is a program in SF that allows you to work them off by doing community service. It’s called Project 20. The program allows you to do community service to make our City a better place in lieu of paying the fine. One important part of the deal, though, is that for each hour of community service that you perform, you will only work off $6 of the fine. It's less than minimum wage, but not as low as prison labor wages, and you'll get some exercise, fresh air, and perhaps make some new scofflaw friends. You can check it out by clicking here, and then click on the "Alternative to Paying Fines" link.
Good luck 2-timer. And remember, this is going to be a very funny story in a couple of years.
David LaBua is a leader in the sustainable urban mobility movement, author of Finding the Sweet Spot and founder of VoicePark, the world’s first voice-guided mobile parking app.
Dear Parking Guru,