No go for towing alternative

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April 5, 2004 // UPDATED 1:10 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

City efforts to start a "booting" program are not getting any traction.

The boot is a mechanical device used to immobilize illegally parked cars or to detain the vehicles of parking scofflaws. The city faced "a significant risk" of violating state towing laws depending on how it used the boot, according to a staff memo written to the City Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PSRS) Committee.

Councilmember Barbara Johnson (4th Ward) had floated a booting program as a way to reduce impound lot use and increase revenue. Other supporters say the boot could be more customer-friendly than a tow because people wouldn't have to go to the impound lot and would pay smaller fines.

Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) wasn't so sure. "We can say this is more customer-friendly. The customers don't feel that way," he said.

Pamela Selinski, traffic control supervisor, said she didn't think the booting program was dead, but it would take more time to develop.

Selenski has made three presentations on the boot to the Counci,l and the latest analysis shows why it may be a nonstarter.

The city has some parking offenses wherein state law allows it to tow immediately, such as parking in a no-stopping zone or parking next to a fire hydrant or bus stop, she said. Using a boot makes little sense in these cases since the city wants the cars removed as quickly as possible.

State law mandates a four-hour towing wait for other offenses such as parking in a no-parking zone, unauthorized vehicle in a commercial truck loading zone or parking within five feet of a driveway, Selinski said.

The city investigated clamping boots on those vehicles right away instead of waiting and towing, she said. It could deter violators and reduce impound lot use -- but it also risked violating the four-hour delay the state's towing law intends.

The city could wait four hours, then boot, but it puts the city back to square one, Selinski said. "If a vehicle is still in one of those zones after four hours, we really want to get it out of there," she said.

Approximately 90 percent of the cities that use the boot use it for parking scofflaws, Selinski said. With the state restrictions, Minneapolis might not have enough potential bootees for an independent booting contractor to make a viable business.

Selinski outlined several options for the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee. The Committee took no action.

In the future, the city could seek a state law change that would clarify booting practices. For instance, it could seek permission to boot immediately in a four-hour-delay towing zone. Selinski said she did not think that would have much support.

The city could also renegotiate the towing contract and add the boot as an alternative to towing for scofflaws, she said.