Tow

A city medallion is shown on a tow truck. (Lloyd Fox, The Baltimore Sun / November 1, 2012)

What happens when a city vehicle is left illegally parked? It might just get towed — possibly by a city tow truck — to a city impound lot, where the city will tack on additional charges.

Over the past two years, more than 30 cars and trucks owned by the City of Baltimore have been hauled to the city's Fallsway or Pulaski Highway impound lots for parking violations. There most sat until somebody forked over the money, usually $272, to cover the tow charge, storage and administrative fees and the parking citation itself. About a dozen were sprung at no charge.

Frankford Towing is among the companies that have towed municipal vehicles, sometimes from the shadow of City Hall. "It's not for us to decide, 'Oh, that's the Mayor's Office — I'm not touching it,'" said the company's longtime manager, Paula Protani, adding that city vehicles aren't always marked as such. "We do our job. We treat everybody equally."

That's not a hypothetical scenario, either: A Buick LeSabre listed under the Mayor's Office was snatched off Mount Royal Avenue in late 2010.

"There are no preferences," said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes. As for who pays to spring a city-owned car from impound, Barnes said at her agency it's the employee whose parking violation triggered the tow. "I cannot speak for other agencies," she said.

The fact that those city vehicles were towed is among the nuggets contained in a trove of data posted on the city's OpenBaltimore website. The records detail 63,000-plus tows to city lots, whether by city crews or "medallion" companies licensed to handle accidents, recovered stolen cars and the like.

The data offers a reminder of some harsh realities in Baltimore. For 7,300 pickups, the reason listed was "Police Action (Arrest of Operator)" or "Police Action (Narcotic)." More than 50 tows fell under the heading "Stolen Recovered (Car Jacking Victim)."

All told, tow charges hit $8.7 million. But owners paid $16 million to reclaim vehicles, a total that included associated fees and charges, as well as unpaid fines. "The city pays the tow company and then whoever picks up the vehicle — the insurance company, owner, salvage company — then they pay the city," explained Protani. Frankford has been paid $1.5 million in tow charges since 2010.

A standard tow costs $130, or $140 if it's west of Charles Street. But about 1,200 tows since October 2010 have cost more. Say a car flipped and has to be rolled over, Protani says. That's an extra $75. And if it's a boat half-submerged in the harbor, you're talking several thousand bucks.

The priciest haul of all: a boat that was taken out of the water off Hanover Street last November. The tow tab: $7,850. No one paid a penny to reclaim it. Records list its fate as "destroyed."

Scott Calvert