MONROE, NY - The Town of Blooming Grove isn't going to stop ticketing and towing cars that commuters abandon in no-parking zones when the 707 spaces at the Monroe park-and-ride are full.
But the town is going to stop the price-gouging for impounding their cars.
Effective Sunday, the town will impose a new fee schedule for towing and storing vehicles that are impounded at the direction of its police department. The maximum fees will be $125 for towing and $25 for storing for the first 24 hours - with an inherent caveat that after-hours retrieval has to be supported.
Until now, some commuters have been charged as much as $181.65, in cash, to recover their cars and then only if they got to the towing company's garage before it closed at 5 p.m., a feat that few have managed. As a result, some have been forced to take the following day off from work to retrieve their cars - and pay another $181.65, in cash.
"Six cars - including mine - were towed today for a total of $1,089.90 in cash,'' reported Florence Leong of Blooming Grove on Nov. 9. "Easy pickings!"
Blooming Grove Police Chief Carl Schupp said he discovered the five towing companies on the town's list were charging wildly different rates when commuters called him to complain about some of the bills in September.
"I was infuriated,'' said Schupp. "They didn't think the punishment, if that's what you want to call it, was appropriate for the crime, and I had to agree with them.''
The chief surveyed the policy in neighboring towns and then recommended to Supervisor Robert Fromaget that Blooming Grove adopt a fee schedule based on the one that Cornwall and New Windsor use.
"We wanted something that was fair and equitable, where what you were charged wasn't dependent on who towed you,'' said Fromaget, adding the Town Board readily agreed. "If one person can make a profit at $125, then others can, too - although perhaps not as much as they'd like."
Schupp and his officers warned commuters in August that they were poised to resume ticketing and towing cars that were blocking aisles and entrances at the twin lots. The action was taken in consultation with the three players in park-and-ride network: the state Department of Transportation, the Orange County Department of Planning and Coach USA/Short Line.
The police had generally ignored violations until last year, when makeshift parking started to make the twin lots virtually impassable for cars and buses. Enforcement then lapsed for the duration of the park-and-ride's multi-million renovation.
"It was my laxity that allowed the situation to get out of control in the first place,'' said Schupp, "and now that the renovation is complete, I don't want to let it happen again. I understand people are just trying to get to work, but they can't park wherever they want. It's a public safety issue."
At the town's request, the state will install new "No Parking" and "Tow Away Zone" signs to discourage makeshift parking - and perhaps free Schupp's officers from the task.
Leong, however, has a different take on all of this. After 25 years, she never knows whether she will find a space when she gets to the Monroe park-and-ride - and if she doesn't, whether she can find a space and a bus at another park-and-ride that will get her to work on time.
"There are still (makeshift) places where you can park without blocking anyone else," she said. "It's unconscionable that we can't use them."
Leong intended to make this case in town court rather than pay the $25 parking ticket she got on Nov. 9. But when court was scheduled for 9 a.m., she threw up her hands and went to work.
"I wasn't going to take the day off,'' she said.