- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

Of all its municipal responsibilities, ticketing and towing vehicles have long been tasks that the District of Columbia has managed to undertake the most efficiently. If an intruder breaks into a home, there is a slim chance the Metropolitan Police will get there in time to help. Yet, ticket-writers meet their de-facto quota of citing 90 violations a day. One reason is that the authorities frequently give tickets to innocent parties. The same goes for towing, especially during so-called snow emergencies.

Last week, for example, as many as 800 cars were towed in Washington in one night. Those vehicles and hundreds more were issued $250 fines. In some cases, this might be necessary to allow trucks to plow busy thoroughfares, but often enough it is unwarranted. Not surprisingly, we have received complaints from motorists who had vehicles towed in zones that did not have signs designating the areas to be snow-emergency zones. Some tows appeared to be in places where signs were missing (which is the city’s fault), but others were illegitimately perpetrated on streets where parking is allowed. These costly mistakes are bound to happen during a frenzy to tow away hundreds of vehicles in a few hours. Having all the region’s tow trucks working overtime to empty city streets also means that towing services are not available for emergencies, such as accidents.

Given that the D.C. government is constantly implementing new ways to harass commuters, it is helpful to take a glimpse at where the hyper-towing program naturally leads — which is Somerville, Mass. On Tuesday, Somerville officials declared a snow emergency and then towed away 200 cars and ticketed 3,000 others. The problem is that it never snowed, and the city initially refused to take responsibility for the undeserved sanctions and forgive the fines. As with so many of the traffic-enforcement policies in Washington, Somerville was more interested in pocketing a cash windfall than in the consequences of alienating innocent citizens.

There is a lot of money to be made in the ticketing and towing business. In 2003, the District pulled in more than $57 million from 1.7 million parking tickets that did not involve moving violations. In a mere four years, photo-enforcement traffic cameras have fleeced motorists of more than $60 million through more than 1 million alleged infractions. This all amounts to a big penalty for those who live in the city or travel into it for work or entertainment.

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