Memorial Day weekend in South Beach. So many people. So many cars. So few parking spaces. Thus, a lot of towing. Six hundred twenty-three vehicles, actually, more than double the corresponding four-day period the week prior.
“We want to make sure that residents’ quality of life is high,” says Saul Frances, Miami Beach’s parking director. “And when residents come home, they can find a parking space.”
Fair enough, but what about when the towing directly affects residents and their wallets? Like mine.
I woke up last Tuesday morning to a missing car. Stolen? Seemed unlikely (with this salary, I sure as hell ain’t driving a Mercedes). Towed? Maybe, but why? I’m a South Beach resident and had parked Monday evening right across from my apartment, on quiet residential Michigan Avenue.
My Zone 2 residential parking decal was in the right place, on the windshield on the passenger side. Oh, but sh*t — then it hit me. I had known I was moving off the Beach at the end of the month and hadn’t paid attention to a decal renewal notice in the mail. Oops.
Just after 9 a.m., the cars were still packed so tightly in the Beach Towing lot that it seemed like somebody would have to bring in a helicopter to get them out. The burly guy at the window said, “They cleaned house this weekend.” Then he gave me the bill, payable in cash only (luckily, an ATM was right there to gouge me with fees): $313, including a $142 charge for the tow, $30 for an “after-hours” fee, and $60 for storage. I later found out my car had been there maybe all of four hours, after being ticketed at 5:30 that morning. After-hours? Storage fee?
I looked at the fee schedule and driver “bill of rights” on the window, which listed separate rates for residents and nonresidents. “I’m a Beach resident,” I said. “No resident discount on holidays,” Burly Dude answered, apparently unaware it was actually Tuesday.
Soon he caved and gave me the resident price, which knocked the total down to $264. “Don’t say we didn’t hook you up,” he added with a smirk.
Later I asked Frances if cars are typically towed on the spot after a ticket is given, effectively giving the violator no chance for redemption. He said yes, basically: “The response could vary between a minute or two to maybe ten to 15 minutes.” High-traffic time periods like Memorial Day and Art Basel naturally increase the number of cars being towed, he said, but the department issued no specific directives to fleece holiday parkers.
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Then I told the director that I was towed and asked if a case like that, when the tow was done at an odd-hour, not on a commercial street, and simply because of an expired resident decal wasn’t just an example of a money grab on the part of the city.
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way,” Frances said. The restricted hours have been put in place after a specific process, he said, and intermittent enforcement is needed even somewhere like my quiet street to try and protect residents’ spots from drivers who might want to park there and walk to restaurants or bars on Washington or Collins. “The program has been fairly successful,” he said.
For those 623 poor(er) souls, though, getting towed still sucks. But at least it can always get worse.
For example: Later in the day, after I got my car back, I made a left turn in Wynwood and then promptly stopped at the red light at the end of the block. A uniformed police officer walked up holding a radar gun. He had clocked me at 26 in a 15 mph school zone, he said. I had passed no school zone sign. I had been on the street for maybe four seconds. Mr. Radar Gun didn’t care. The ticket: $319 dollars.