Philly impounds vehicles left in the papal ‘no parking’ zone

 The Philadelphia Parking Authority will haul vehicles parked in restricted areas to one of its impound lots. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Parking Authority will haul vehicles parked in restricted areas to one of its impound lots. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Parking Authority has started its towing sweep around the city ahead of Pope Francis’ visit; so far, it looks like most motorists are getting out before their cars get hauled away.

Officials originally said around 1,500 vehicles could be towed to clear the way for the pontiff. But now,  the PPA’s deputy executive director Richard Dickson estimates that number is will likely be far lower since so many are heeding the warnings. Just about 15 percent of affected motorists improperly left cars in restricted areas, he said.

PPA tow trucks removed about 60 vehicles on both Sunday night and Monday. That’s roughly the number of vehicles the authority impounds on a normal day, Dickson said. The difference is that all of these tows were related to pope zones, instead of typical citywide enforcement. 

“That’s significantly lower than expected, and we’re extremely happy about that,” Dickson said. “We would like to have zero, but this is where we ended up, and it’s a good number.”

Owners of relocated vehicles will get a $76 ticket, but they will avoid the typical $175 tow and impounding fee. The PPA has published its  towing schedule, phased over several days, which wraps up Thursday. Cars towed after 10 p.m. on Thursday will be treated like any other tow job, including the $175 fee.

“This is not a revenue-based exercise,” Dickson said. “Each of the blocks where we towed, we made sure there were signs posted to indicate when the parking prohibition would go into effect. I’m really sorry that anybody got towed.”

Vehicle owners can obtain a placard from the parking authority that bides time until Thursday evening, when all cars from the restricted area must be moved or towed. Dickson said there are six lots in Center City where motorists with placards can park their cars.

While many angry motorists are calling the security restrictions overzealous, city parking officials say it was an order from the U.S. Secret Service.

As expected, those who have already been caught in the pope zone are far from delighted, like Rick Steigerwalt from the Allentown area. Driving to Philly twice a week for medical appointments in Center City, he parked his Dodge Caravan in what he thought was a legal spot Sunday to stay overnight ahead of his Monday morning doctor visit. But he had a surprise waiting for him when he awoke: the vehicle was gone. 

“Evidently it must be the pope zone,” Steigerwalt said. “And there’s no papers or literature up, but they’re saying I was parked in the ‘no zone.'”

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