Aldermen curb ‘Lincoln Park Pirates’ with towing bill of rights

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Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) huddles with Foster District Cmdr. Sean Loughran before a City Council hearing Tuesday about Lincoln Towing, the company immortalized in Steve Goodman’s song, “Lincoln Park Pirates.” | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Motorists whose cars have been snatched from the streets and parking lots of Chicago will soon have a “towing bill of rights” to fight back and even the playing field.

The City Council’s License Committee approved the ordinance Tuesday in response to an avalanche of complaints about Lincoln Towing, the company made famous in the Steve Goodman song, “Lincoln Park Pirates.”

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) led the charge for the bill of rights just three months after he engaged in a heated public exchange with Allen Perl, an attorney representing Protective Parking Services doing business as Lincoln Towing.

“People are tired of being abused by tow truck companies. Simple as that,” Pawar said.

“If you have a store or a business or a private parking lot, you should be able to maintain that without having people parking illegally. Tow truck companies need to exist. They just need to learn how to behave. And they need to do it in a way that’s not abusive or criminal.”

Pawar described as a “game changer” the requirement that “each relocator” provide the Chicago Police Department with an annual list of locations where the company has an “active contract to remove unauthorized vehicles.” The list would stipulate whether the agreement is to patrol the lot or simply remove vehicles “upon request.”

Another “big deal,” as Pawar put it, is the requirement that towing companies “install onboard cameras on all vehicles used to relocate unauthorized vehicles” and provide motorists with “video and audio of the tow” upon request.

“That gives you a sense of what actually happened leading up to that tow — that it wasn’t just, ‘They said I was parked illegally and I don’t have any recourse other than going to the state. The only other thing I can do is pay.’ This will help balance the relationship,” Pawar said.

“People should get towed if they park illegally. They just shouldn’t be abused. They shouldn’t be hurt. They shouldn’t have their car damaged. They shouldn’t have their items stolen. They shouldn’t be threatened. This is a consumer protection.”

The Towing Bill of Rights poised for final approval at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would require “relocators” to post signs, spell out rates, photograph the illegally parked vehicle before it’s towed and release vehicles if the owner arrives with the keys before it is towed.

If the owner of a relocated vehicle is not able to immediately pay to retrieve the vehicle, the company must give that motorist access to the vehicle to retrieve any personal belongings.

The Police Department would also have to be notified “within 30 minutes” of every tow.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is considering whether to strip Lincoln Towing of its state towing license after an avalanche of consumer complaints and petitions signed by more than 3,000 people, many of them Pawar’s constituents.

Against that backdrop, Pawar engaged in a heated exchange with Perl during a City Council hearing in late March.

On that day, motorists told horror stories to underscore their claim that the lyrics to “Lincoln Park Pirates” are every bit as valid today as they were when Goodman wrote them in 1973.

William Rankin told the story of allowing a neighbor in his “upper 70s” who is suffering from cancer and heart problems park in the lot of Rankin’s building while he went for medical treatments. That is, until Lincoln Towing snatched his car with a foot of snow on the ground.

“Barney had to take two buses in zero-degree weather and pay $200 so he could get his old Pontiac and go to his therapy. That’s not funny,” Rankin said.

“I allow people who work at a very famous barbecue across the street to park in my lot. These are kids. And they took two of their cars. Two-hundred bucks. That’s a week’s salary for these kids. . . . They’re working overtime just to make a living. That’s not funny.”

Turning to the aldermen, Rankin said, “If you have a mad dog, you can put the mad dog away. But the owner is just going to go out and buy another dog and make that one into a ferocious beast. It is the Illinois Commerce Commission that’s the enemy here. Not Lincoln Towing. They’re the mad dog. But the Illinois Commerce Commission are the owners of that mad dog. They still license Lincoln Towing.”

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