The Philadelphia Parking Authority, Street Justice, and a Land Yacht
I have had a fairly minor neighborhood dispute that, I think, is worth sharing here.
Back in September 2015, Pope Francis visited Philadelphia. Around that time a motorhome appeared at the corner of my street. I assumed that it was there to accommodate a pilgrim to see the pope. I did not think much of it aside form the fact that the motorhome was over three car lengths long and called a “Land Yacht” – which, judging by its size – was more of an accurate descriptor than just a catchy euphemism.
Now, it is worth noting that Philadelphia City Ordinance does not permit motorhomes to be parked on a city street for more than thirty days at a time (see here).
A few months went by and I noticed that the Land Yacht remained parked on the street. I was, quite honestly, annoyed, but it did not go much further than that. On average, I only passed it once per week, so it went out of my mind a lot, but, as the weeks went by, I would take note of its presence time and time again, and the fact that it started to look like an eye sore sitting on the street indefinitely started to grate on me.
In March 2016 my uncle came to my house and complained that he could not find a parking space. Now, parking is at a premium in my neighborhood on a good day, but a perpetually parked motorhome that exceeds three cars in length eats up a lot of potential parking spaces! My uncle’s plight in finding a parking spot was the last straw for me.
I could not discern the motorhome’s owner, however I did note that its stickers were up-to-date, although it did have Florida tags. I also noted that one side of the street had a sign which read “No Truck Parking” while the sign which hung on the other side was gone. Once I collected information from the motorhome, I called the police (specifically the 8th precinct), the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), and Philly311. I also tried to recruit my neighbors to do the same, but I do not know if they did. I received different responses from each person I called and not a whole lot of cooperation.
When I called Philly311, they were pleasant and took my information and promised a response within about thirty days. They insisted that they would have to treat the motorhome as “abandoned,” but I am not sure why because, as I tried to explain to them, the motorhome did not appear abandoned, but is parked in violation of City Ordinance. The person I spoke to was unfamiliar with the ordinance and continued treating the matter as an abandoned car matter. When I was asked where the motorhome was, the 311 person required an address. I gave a street crossing as the motorhome was really not parked in front of a house. Strangely, the street crossing was insufficient for 311 – which is weird because street crossings are a standard way to identify a location in a city – and I had to spend 5 or 10 minutes google mapping the area to get an address.
I called the police who, like Philly311, were totally unfamiliar with the City Ordinance cited above. The officer I spoke with asked if the motorhome was illegally parked. As the officer was also unfamiliar with the ordinance, he did not think it was illegally parked, so he, too, pursued an abandoned car angle as well.
The PPA was easily the worst of the three. The people I spoke with when I called the police and 311 were pleasant, listened, and promised to do something (although what they were going to do was unclear). Each time I called the PPA, the person who answered the telephone was rude and seemed annoyed at the fact that someone called. They, needless to say, had absolutely no idea what the City Ordinance had to say. I tried to explain how the motorhome was taking up a lot of parking spaces illegally, but the explanation really did not go anywhere. The PPA was uninterested in looking into the matter. Furthermore, when asked where the motorhome was – in a neighborhood in the Greater North East – the PPA told me that it does not enforce “all the way up there.” Now, mind you, the Greater North East is part of the City of Philadelphia, so I see no legitimate reason why the Philadelphia Parking Authority would not enforce in all parts of the City. The only reasons I can think of for a lack of enforcement in the Greater North East is because the revenue in Center City is much greater (so it assigns more people there and too few elsewhere), and my neighborhood is filled with police, firemen, and other city employees and the PPA does not want to ticket them. Finally, when I complained a little louder, the woman I spoke with told me that “times are changing” and the PPA cannot tow all the cars it needs to tow, so I should get my own tow truck and simply tow the motorhome myself. When I told her that I am just an average and ordinary citizen and not empowered to, basically, steal and/or damage someone else’s property by towing it myself, she insisted that I could as things “are changing.” Thankfully I did not act on her advice.
Each place I called asked what the motorhome looks like. Obviously, that question is completely expected and normal. What is not normal is the precision they required – colors, plate numbers, and such. The motorhome is enormous and the only one on the block and when one goes on the street, it is pretty obvious which vehicle is the motorhome. Annoyingly, this was insufficient for their purposes. I imagine all three were filling out a government form and did not know, how to think, quite literally, outside the boxes on the form they were using.
Philly311 told me it needed a thirty day turnaround time. So, I did not call them back after I provided my report. I called the PPA every three days. I called the police twice per week. In fact, as I had a dentist appointment during this time – and my dentist is across the street from the police station – I made a pop in on them too. Whenever I called either the PPA or the police, the person I spoke to had almost no information for me. When I popped in, however, the police officer I spoke with was familiar with the matter and insisted it was in process. It was about this time I noticed the “No Truck Parking” sign looked to have been removed. So, armed with that information, I called PPA again, and reported an illegally parked car (illegally per parking signs this time and not an Ordinance with which no one was familiar). The person I spoke to took down my information without argument, and said the PPA would look into it. About this time, the motorhome’s tags changed from Florida to Pennsylvania. Coincidence? Doubtful.
So, a month later I suddenly get a picture-text-message from my wife of the street. Land Yacht free! No fanfare. No warning. Suddenly, as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared. No one called me to tell me it happened. I never saw police or PPA in my neighborhood casing the streets or the motorhome. Nothing. One day there and the next day gone. All it took was collecting a lot of information, and being a thorn in the side of three government agencies (police, 311, and PPA). I have no idea which agency made it happen or when it actually happened. I just know it did. It “only” took about five weeks of effort to make it happen!
This whole process just highlights how difficult it is to get something very minor accomplished in the City, as so many of its employees are some combination of disinterested, lazy, rude, and/or ignorant. The responses I received from the PPA were just shocking. The police and 311 were, at least, nice and tried to accommodate. The PPA was just rude, and telling me that they do not enforce in my neighborhood is ridiculous, and telling me that I should tow it myself was just beyond the pale. The PPA should be ashamed, but, of course, it seems proud of itself. So much so that television shows are made about it (see here).
So, I guess the moral of this story is this: if you have a problem in the City, call as many agencies as possible, wade through their collective ignorance, rudeness, laziness, stupidity, and/or inflexibility, and be annoyingly persistent to ensure that they actually do what they are supposed to do and/or indicate they will do. Making sure that they know you will not go away goes a long way. The squeaky wheel got its oil and the Land Yacht has shoved off for other, hopefully more appropriate, waters.