Speaking Out

The Towing System

I had a costly and painful experience with R & K Towing, Inc., the towing operation whose service is employed by the University. I came to school on Saturday afternoon, July 17, to clear out some books and papers from my office in Steinberg-Dietrich Hall. The school was very quiet, no cars were parked in the small lot behind the building, and I came in through an open back door, unaware that the reception desk (where one gets temporary permits to park behind the building) was even open. In any case, I was only going to load up a few boxes and take them down, a job that took me 5 minutes more than I anticipated-20 minutes. But during that interval my car had been towed away by R & K, although the lot was still empty, I was certainly not blocking the dumpster, and my car had a Lot 14 sticker on it showing that I was a member of the University community.

So after figuring out what happened, I had to scout around to raise $90 in cash plus cab fare to get my car back, find a cab, drive out to R & K, and pay my ransom. This took an hour and a half, and an expenditure of nervous energy in worry and anger (mainly at the University administration). There is a procedure at Penn for recovery of the $90 for unjust towing; the manager at R & K, after asking me whether I hadn't been blocking the dumpster, quickly offered me a University recovery form to fill out, an interesting arrangement that suggests a defective system in operation.

One thing wrong with the towing system is that it gives R & K a strong financial incentive to tow aggressively and without the slightest consideration of any rule of reason. That I was a University person in a lot totally unused on a Saturday afternoon was of no interest to R & K. They might very well have towed me even if I had gotten a permit, as going all the way around the building into the front door, waiting for the paper work, and perhaps stopping for a moment at the lavatory could have taken 15 minutes, more than enough time for the vultures to strike.

The system also suffers from the severity of the penalty. There is no intermediate warning, and no moderate penalty like a $15-30 fine, only the towing, $90+, and time expenditure cost, applied without any use of discretion. It is true that there is a sign warning of the towing threat, but it is easy to miss, or forget, and people may also assume, erroneously, that a rule of reason will apply in a university community.

The University should treat even encroaching outsiders, let alone its own students, faculty and staff, with more restraint and sense.

--Edward S. Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance

Response from Campus Police

Although being towed is not a pleasant experience, the consequences of the University not enforcing parking policies for people who pay to park in designated spots is equally distressing to those paying customers. Therefore, it is imperative that the University ensure these spots are reserved for authorized vehicle parking. R&K towing company is the designated vendor to ensure parking compliance on the University's property.

--Maureen S. Rush, Chief of Police, University Police Department

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 2, September 7, 1999