Sep 21, 2009

City clears streets of abandoned cars--makes a profit

Six years ago, it was likely that if you lived in Worcester, MA, you had an abandoned car on your street. Your taxes paid the snowplow operators for the waste of time maneuvering around them. You had a safety hazard. It just plain made your neighborhood look run down.

Then neighborhood leaders and the city council convinced the city to tackle the problem. Now the city’s making a profit on the Abandoned Vehicle Removal Program, relieving some of the bite on taxpayers. That’s without counting the ancillary safety and other costs.

That first year, reports the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 2,428 abandoned vehicles were tagged for removal. Owners then removed 55% of them, facing the prospect of the car being towed in 72 hours and a $400 fine. If they didn’t pay the fine, the state Registry of Motor Vehicles would flag the owner’s record, so they couldn’t renew their driver’s license or a motor vehicle registration until they paid up.

The city learned a few things along the way. At the start, they paid $40 to tow each vehicle away. In 2006, the contract was changed. Now the city receives $100 for each vehicle from the towing contractor. If a vehicle sits on the lot for more than 30 days, the contractor owns it. It can sell it, crush it, or harvest parts.

In six years, that has yielded nearly $425,000 in fines and fees. Payments from the towing contractor have added another $30,000 to the city’s coffers. The cost to operate the program has been only about $130,000, netting $325,000.

Continued attention from parking control officers also identifies stolen vehicles that are returned to their owners—or their insurance companies.

The city’s income from the program has diminished over the years as owners have learned not to park unwanted cars on the streets. Only 400 were tagged last year, and owners moved 80% of those.

The snowplow drivers are a lot happier.

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