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Image by Rodion Kutsaev



At least 583 cities and towns collect 10 percent or more of their general fund revenue from fines, including towing. However, there are also monetary losses that occur because of towing. High fines and fees can lead people to not paying anything at all. Cities also lose money on tows when unpaid fines and fees are the reason for the tow, as those individuals are not likely to pay even more money than what they already owe.


Reform Towing Policies & Practices

Cities can generate revenue from citations and towing, while also turning to effective and equitable ways of rethinking compliance that will actually save them money. In 2020, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) implemented reforms to their towing policies, including a tow and boot fee waiver for people experiencing homelessness and discounts for low-income people. Integrated parking programs where drivers use a common permit or accessible mobile app for both private and public parking could also lead to greater compliance and potentially less chances of inequitable tows. 


Create Safe Parking Programs for the Homeless

In the meantime, several West Coast cities created programs to provide designated “safe parking” areas to prevent towing that forces individuals experiencing vehicular homelessness to live on the street. And there is evidence that these programs are effective—the Homelessness Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern California found that safe parking programs can lead to participants finding or being placed in housing. Small businesses are taking action too, like a used-car dealership in Charlotte that allows people to park in their lot overnight.


Decrease Car Dependence

Issues with towing can also be addressed by investment in alternatives to driving. In light of changing travel behavior due to COVID-19 and mass teleworking, transit agencies should explore changes in service frequency since traditional peak service has been disrupted. Increasing transit service to suburban areas surrounding cities may help to decrease car dependence for low-income communities. Particularly for late-shift workers, who are disproportionately people of color, more service during off-peak hours could help to avoid overnight parking violations.

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