Philly Council votes yes on higher fines for illegal auto work on city streets and sidewalks

Students from Southwest Leadership Academy are seen in this 2019 file photo navigating a sidewalk near the school congested with wrecked cars and debris associated with two auto repair shops on the block. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Students from Southwest Leadership Academy are seen in this 2019 file photo navigating a sidewalk near the school congested with wrecked cars and debris associated with two auto repair shops on the block. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council passed a bill expressly barring residents and auto businesses from using public sidewalks and streets to repair and sell cars.

Under the measure, introduced by Councilmember Bobby Henon, violators will be hit with a $300 fine each day for each vehicle. The daily fine was previously $50.

The city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, which is responsible for business enforcement, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, will handle enforcement.

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Henon spokesperson Courtney Voss has said the legislation is a reaction to the “dramatic” uptick in vehicle repair work and sales on city streets and sidewalks that coincided with a jump in used car prices.

“Nationally and locally, used car prices are skyrocketing and the individuals who are engaged in this activity are potentially profiting substantially without taking into consideration the impact that they are having on their neighborhoods,” said Voss.

Those impacts include quality-of-life-issues, such as decreased on-street parking, noise from auto work, and residents having to contend with auto fluids that drain into streets and sewers.

Russell Zerbo, an advocate with the nonprofit Clean Air Council, agreed that auto repair work on sidewalks is a problem in Philadelphia. Most of all, because it’s part of a poorly enforced practice that often forces pedestrians to walk in the street, where it is more dangerous and possibly fatal. The problem also tends to manifest alongside other environmental hazards such as illegal dumping, adding to the public safety risks.

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But Zerbo doesn’t think Henon’s legislation will help reduce the number of cars parked on city sidewalks, which is already illegal regardless of the reason.

“I would be much more interested in legislation that would increase funding for inspectors, the ability for the city to receive complaints — any sort of outreach on the city’s behalf to auto shops,” said Zerbo.

Does he think the increased fine will act as a deterrent?

“That rests on the assumption that your local auto repair person is scanning the City Council docket,” he said.

The measure now goes to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for a signature.

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