LEWISTON — Wreckers towed 50 cars downtown Thursday in the first test of the city’s new storm-by-storm parking ban.
“They tried holding back a bit on some neighborhoods since this was the first one,” police Sgt. David Chick said. “We tried to give some streets a little more time, until the plows had come to their streets.”
The city adopted the new downtown winter parking rules this year, replacing the old policy that banned all parking downtown from November to May.
According to the new policy, most residents can continue to park on the street throughout the winter as long as there is no storm expected. Parking is still banned for the entire winter on several narrow downtown streets that are marked with “No Parking” signs.
Once a parking ban is in effect, residents need to get their cars off the streets to make room for the city’s snowplows.
“The most important thing is getting the cars out of the way so the plows can operate and keep the street safe and passable,” Chick said. “The second priority is making sure the streets are ready so the plows make as few passes as necessary to properly clean the streets.”
It can be expensive.
Cars that are left on the street during the ban will be towed. The unlucky owners will be assessed a $30 fine and will have to pay towing and storage costs after 24 hours — in addition to any outstanding parking tickets.
City fines are just the first part of the bill. Some towing companies were charging car owners up to $180 in towing fees Thursday.
Dave Walter, manager at Anytime Towing, said there is no set fee for towing companies in Lewiston. He would not say how much his company charges to tow a car during a storm or to store a vehicle on Anytime’s lot. He did say that most of the companies’ fees are within $15 of each other.
Chick said the companies can only charge a storage fee after 24 hours, according to the ordinance.
“The storage fee for the first 24 hours is included in that original towing charge,” Chick said. “If people see that showing up on their bills and they know the car was not stored for 24 hours, they should contact us.”
But Chick said there may be other charges that are perfectly legal.
“If the driver has to get out a shovel and dig the car out before towing it, he can charge for that labor,” Chick said. “People need to remember that they may be asleep in their beds, but work is still going on.”
The city will notify residents via TV, radio, newspapers, text messages, e-mail and the city’s website when a parking ban will go into effect. The city has also set up a telephone hotline at 513-3141 that residents can call to check parking ban status.
The city has created a page with information about the parking ban on the city’s website, www.lewistonmaine.gov.
Owners may call the towing information line at 784-6421 to find out which towing company took their car and how they can get it back.