Cars may get boot instead of a tow

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January 19, 2004 // UPDATED 2:37 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Minneapolis may soon test the "Denver Boot" to see how well it fits illegally parked cars or parking-ticket scofflaws.

The Denver Boot is a kind of large mechanical padlock that attaches to a vehicle's front wheel and prevents owners from driving away until they pay the parking fines -- and the de-booting fee. It got its name because Denver was one of the first cities to use it.

The Minneapolis City Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee is scheduled to discuss a boot pilot program Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 1:30 p.m. in Council chambers, 350 S. 5th St.

City Councilmember Barbara Johnson (4th Ward) asked staff to research the issue. Booting cars would cost half as much as towing, reduce impound lot use and increase revenue, she said.

The boot could help free impound lot land, she said which the city would like to redevelop. It could reduce the frustration people face when their car is towed; they won't have to travel as far or pay as much to get their car back. However, drivers could perceive it as one more aggravation, the city's latest moneymaking effort.

Mike Sachi, a Public Works parking engineer, said the program is in a very preliminary stage. He will not make a proposal to the committee but present it with information from other cities that use the boot, to give Councilmembers some options about how to proceed.

"The goal basically is to increase compliance with parking regulations," Sachi said. "If we decide it's better if we just increase the price of tickets, maybe that will have the goal of increasing compliance with regulations rather than having a whole booting program set up."

Any number of cities use the boot: Denver, Boston, Sacramento, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia to name a few.

If the Council gives the boot the thumbs up, the Public Works Department could present a plan in several months, Sachi said. The city would do a public information campaign before starting any booting program.

One of the questions the Council will need to decide is whether to use the boot on illegally parked vehicles, as an alternative to towing, or to use it for people who have multiple unpaid parking tickets -- regardless of whether they are illegally parked at the time.

Many larger cities use the boot for parking-fine scofflaws. In Phoenix, for instance, vehicles with three or more unpaid parking tickets (50 days or more from date of issue) get a court warning, the city's Web site said. The owners then have 21 days to pay the fines or challenge them. If they don't, their cars go on a "boot" eligibility list.

If vehicle owners get a boot and do not make arrangements to pay by the end of the business day, the vehicle is towed by 6 p.m. In Sacramento, by comparison, owners have 72 hours before the city tows a booted car, according to the KRCA-TV Web site.

If the Minneapolis pilot program goes forward, the Council will have to decide whether to test it Downtown or go citywide.

Sachi said Downtown has the most No Parking zones. "That is where the majority of tickets are written," he said. "That is where we would look to increase compliance."

City leaders will also have to ask the broader question of whether the boot meets other city goals, he said.

"Is this a friendly Downtown by having a boot on?" Sachi asked. "Maybe it is if your car doesn't end up at the impound lot and it is still sitting out there when you come back for it."

Then there are the brass tacks questions: How much will the city charge for boot removal?

Denver charges a $50 boot removal fee, in addition to outstanding parking fees, its Web site said. Boston charges $56, Chicago charges $60 and Philadelphia charges $100, their Web sites said.

Johnson said booting would cost car owners half as much as a tow, and Sachi agreed. Sachi estimated the average tow at approximately $150 and a boot removal fee at $75. "That is one of the cost-benefit components we need to figure out," he said.

The city attorney's staff is reviewing city ordinances and state statutes to see what, if any, changes are needed to allow such a program. The city will have to decide who is responsible to put on and remove the boots -- will it be the towing companies or a separate contractor?

Public Works has no budget money for the program. It would either have to cannibalize an existing program, get more money or design the program so that it funds itself.

Some cities see the boot as a potential moneymaker. The KRCA Web site said from July 2000 to June 2003, the city of Sacramento estimated there were 50,000 outstanding parking tickets worth $6 million.

Sachi said the city has not analyzed the boot's income potential. Hennepin County collects parking ticket data, and it is not easily accessible. The boot could even have a downward revenue push; if it increases parking compliance -- as intended -- traffic enforcers would write fewer tickets.

Research could answer some questions, Sachi said. Other questions might only get answered by doing a pilot program.