Liz Miner snaps a photo of her Toyota Camry every time she parks it. Up until last month, she might’ve agreed if you called her paranoid.
But Miner’s recent experience with the Philadelphia Parking Authority has convinced her of the need to take prophylactic measures.
“To make sure I have proof,” Miner said of her new photo collection.
The 23-year-old moved to South Philly from Bucks County less than a year ago, but she’s quickly becoming a battle-hardened street parker.
In early April, Miner, who works for a public accounting firm as an auditor, had parked in a legal spot, within her permit zone, at Eighth and Lombard Streets. She checked on it each morning during her walk to work in Center City.
When she first moved to the city, Miner had gotten an expensive ticket. That was her mistake. Ever since, she’s been vigilant.
“I was extremely aware,” she said, “of where I was parking.”
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning. All good. Her car was still outside the flower shop back in the second week of April.
Then, when Miner returned from work that Thursday afternoon, her Camry was gone. It had been ticketed at 1:35 p.m., then towed by the PPA because it was in a parking spot reserved for drivers with disabilities.
Technically, Miner’s car was parked in the reserved spot. But it hadn’t been reserved when she parked it there.
“It looked like there were brand-new handicapped parking signs and I was like, ‘What the heck?’” Miner said. “I didn’t realize they could just switch the signs. They basically accused me of parking in a handicapped spot that wasn’t a handicapped spot when I parked there.”
She said there was no advance notice. A work order wedged between the pole and the back of the sign appeared to indicate that new signs had been freshly installed.
Miner paid about $475 — the cost of the ticket plus a towing fee — to get her car out of the PPA impound lot.
For the last six weeks, Miner has been trying to dispute the ticket and tow fee. She’s gone on the PPA’s website, but the ticket isn’t there.
“There’s almost nothing I can do,” she said. “It’s so hard to get in touch with them.”
Miner said she would have preferred that her car be “courtesy” towed, the oft-criticized process in which the Police Department, PPA, or a private tow company relocates cars that are parked in temporary no-parking zones due to roadwork or special events.
“For a courtesy tow, I probably wouldn’t have had to spend $475,” she said.
But that process, which relies mostly on handwritten notes and fax machines, has been plagued by problems too, with frequent reports of cars being lost or even towed into other no-parking zones, then ticketed, towed, or booted by the PPA.
Drivers who had initially parked legally have spent days or weeks searching for their vehicles after they are relocated out of temporary no-parking zones. Others have been pulled over months later in other states because they initially reported their vehicle stolen, but Philadelphia police apparently failed to update the stolen-vehicle database when they were recovered.
In March, The Inquirer reported on the case of Gary Isaacs, whose car was courtesy-towed from his legal spot in Center City in December for tree work, dropped off in a loading zone, then impounded by the PPA and scheduled to be auctioned off. He had to pay nearly $1,000 to retrieve it, and the PPA would not let him dispute the tickets and fees.
After the story was published, a senior PPA official contacted Isaacs and agreed to review the case. The agency finally refunded Isaacs’ money this month.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Isaacs said last week. “The bigger issue remains.”
The towing to mysterious destinations. The missing paperwork. The lack of accountability.
“It’s like no one wants to take ownership of it,” Isaacs said of the courtesy-tow process, which can involve several government agencies. “They all know it’s happening, but they just turn the other way and keep going.”
Isaacs, who runs a nonprofit that fights homelessness, spent an additional $500 to replace his driver’s side window. It was shattered when he found the car on the PPA lot in January. He’s still in the process of trying to recoup that money from the city.
“I haven’t received it yet,” he said. “But it could just be in the administrative process.”
Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon PPA spokesperson Marty O’Rouke looked into Liz Miner’s case at The Inquirer’s request. Records confirmed that she had parked at Eighth and Lombard before it was converted to a space for drivers with disabilities. O’Rourke said the agency has submitted a request to have Miner’s money refunded.
“The car was clearly parked there before the signs were installed, because that was listed on the work order,” O’Rourke said. “The PPA will ask that the ticket be dismissed and all fines and towing fees be refunded. We apologize for any inconvenience.”