Dude, Where’s My Car?

For many reasons, the city of Chicago moves vehicles at any time of day, often with little or no notice, and afterward makes no attempt to contact the cars’ owners. Instead the city relies on owners to check the city’s website or call 311 to find out if their vehicles have been moved. But because of a lag in logging the cars, some owners complained that when they did call, the city couldn’t find their vehicles right away.

That is what happened to Margaret Schriver who lives in the Uptown neighborhood. She went to her normal parking spot,  but her car was nowhere to be found. Frantically, she called the towing company listed on a nearby sign. Nothing. She tried Chicago police and the city’s 311 information line, but both agencies had no information about her car. She figured then that thieves were to blame.

She called her insurance and filed a stolen car report. But a week later, police called her with good news:  Her car had been found. The city had “relocated” it to a parking spot near Montrose Beach, a mile away, because People’s Gas was doing work on her street.

City ordinance requires at least 24 hours of notice for a temporary parking ban via signs for planned work, such as sewer updates, road resurfacing or tree trimming. But if there’s an emergency, vehicles can be moved without notice, said Department of Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Anne Sheahan. That might be for utility malfunctions, bad weather or police activity, for example.

When asked why the city can’t notify residents via phone, email or mail that their car has been moved, both the Streets and Sanitation Department and the Department of Transportation said the city does not have access to drivers’ phone numbers or email addresses, only their physical addresses. Both agencies also said that sending letters would be ineffective, as most residents would have found their cars by the time the letters arrived, and suggested instead that people continue calling 311.

Sheahan said the city sees relocation as a good alternative to towing and impounding because it creates less inconvenience for residents.

“We relocate … when we need to access the street and a car needs to be moved,” Sheahan said. “Our priority is to address the work that needs to be done, and we want to be fair to people who don’t have notice.”



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