If you have to park your car in Brighton or Allston, man, avoid the lots at Blanchard's, Whole Foods and Rite Aid. In a gracious act of public service, Andrew Ryan and Matt Carroll of The Globe broke down where most of the more than 90,000 cars towed annually in Boston depart from. The biggest black hole, hands down, was the Brighton Avenue lot in Allston that Rite Aid shares with Dunkin' Donuts. To wit:
To Lydia and Daniel Wee, heading into Allston for dinner one evening last spring, it looked like a dream come true in a city where it can be hell to park—an almost empty lot close to the restaurant, fronting a nearly deserted strip mall. ... Wrong move. ... The Wees returned to find a crew from Robert’s Towing hauling away their silver Toyota Solara, even after Lydia, 28, sat down in the passenger seat and said she wouldn’t move until police arrived.
“The men then stepped into their truck and began driving off with my wife still halfway in the car and the door still wide [open]!’’ Daniel Wee, 31, wrote in a complaint to the state.
There does not seem to be any sort of rhyme nor reason as to where and why some spots are bigger black holes than others beyond the bottom lines of towing companies. Take Robert's Towing, which trolls the Rite Aid/Dunkin' Donuts lot in Allston:
[R]oughly 3,550 vehicles over 31 months, generating an estimated $465,000 in cash for Robert’s if they collected $131 per tow ... Robert Kopelman, owner of the towing company, acknowledges that he pays some of his drivers on commission, giving them incentive to patrol the lot at 177 Brighton Ave., where drivers tend to park illegally before heading off to bustling restaurants and bars nearby. Other places you don't want to park unless you absolutely, positively, show-starts-in-10 can't avoid it: "pharmacy parking lots in Allston, South Boston, and the South End; Commercial Wharf West, a block-long private street near the North End; the Whole Foods near the Boston-Brookline border; Blanchard’s liquor store in Allston, a Stop & Shop in Brigham Circle, and a strip mall lot in Fields Corner."
And should you think, like the Wees in the opening Allston anecdote, to complain... well, you do that and see what happens.
Drivers whose cars are hauled away have fewer rights and less legal protection in Massachusetts than in other states. The state Department of Public Utilities handles many of the consumer complaints about alleged towing abuses, but it has little authority and routinely sides with tow truck companies, according to a review of the department’s complaint files. ...
In New York City, California, and many other locales, a tow truck driver is legally required to release a vehicle if the owner arrives on the scene. In Massachusetts, state law leaves the decision “up to the discretion’’ of the tow truck drivers. They can choose to collect a “drop fee,’’ unhooking the vehicle on the spot for half the price of a $90 tow, plus fees, often required in cash.
“I felt like I was completely at [Robert’s] mercy,’’ Wee, the driver whose wife had the run-in with the driver in the Allston strip mall lot, said in an interview. He ultimately handed over $50 cash for his car but sought recourse by complaining to state regulators. “Robert’s had a different story, so it was my word against theirs. They said there was nothing they could do about it.’’
· Perils of Parking: A City on the Hook [Globe]