Unlike Mpls., St. Paul tow trucks target whole city

Plows cleared University Avenue in St. Paul on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009.
Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News 2009

Snow emergency scofflaws found little safe haven from St. Paul towing contractors following the season's first significant storm.

Data compiled by MPR News show tow trucks made it to most residential parts of the city during the storm that began Dec. 27.

That stands in contrast to Minneapolis, where trucks focused their efforts in areas with large amounts of rental housing closer to the city's only impound lot.

Not one car was towed from southwest Minneapolis following the same snow storm.

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A few pockets of St. Paul saw relatively few tows — most notably the areas surrounding Lake Como, Lake Phalen and Battle Creek Regional Park. But council members representing those areas say they understand why tow trucks would have difficulty hauling cars around large natural obstacles like lakes.

"First glimpse, it looks like we have a fairly equitable towing practice in our city," said Council Member Amy Brendmoen, whose ward includes Como Park.

St. Paul towed 887 cars and issued 3,506 parking tickets during the snow emergency.

Snow emergency towed cars in St Paul

Impound lots are located at the green arrows.
Source: city of St Paul

The map at least partially dispels long-standing suspicions among some council members that areas far from the two city impound lots get short shrift from towing contractors.

St. Paul lags far behind Minneapolis when it comes to collecting such information. Minneapolis maintains a digital database of every tow completed by city contractors. St. Paul tracks only the make, model and license plate numbers of cars in its impound lots.

To determine from where vehicles were towed, MPR News looked up the parking ticket associated with each vehicle at the Ramsey County Courthouse.

Still, the data set is not comprehensive. Due to deficiencies in the city's record keeping, the map includes only vehicles with Minnesota license plates, which accounted for the vast majority of cars towed. Some tickets also contained incomplete or imprecise addresses. As a result, many of the locations on the map are approximate.

St. Paul is working with a pro bono consultant to improve snow plowing. Dave MacCallum, executive director of the non-profit Civic Consulting Minnesota, is helping the city's Public Works Department use data to track its performance. One data set identified on the preliminary list of "winter streets performance metrics" he presented to the council in November related to ticketing and towing.