LINCOLN PARK — Parents of British School students are furious over the towing of their cars after they say they left the vehicles only briefly in a lot to take their children into the Lincoln Park school.
Last week, more than 15 cars were towed from the lot used for area stores near the British School, 814 W. Eastman St. Tow trucks could be seen waiting for parents to park and then swiftly hooking the vehicles and removing them.
A manager for the tow truck company, Rendered Services, said he was "sending a message" by having his crew aggressively patrol the lot this week. The manager, who would only identify himself as Bill, said parents had been warned for months by the school not to park in the lot.
Paul Biasco describes how the tow trucks have been targeting the parents:
On Thursday morning, a tow truck driver could be seen parked in the shadows of a building around the corner from the lot. The driver watched a woman pull into the lot at 8 a.m., get out of her vehicle and walk her children across Eastman Street and into the school.
The moment the family was out of sight, the driver drove into the lot, slipped a jack under the car's front tires, rolled the vehicle out of the parking spot and, in less than two minutes, the car was gone.
Meanwhile, about 10 minutes later, a father could be seen wandering the lot looking for his car which also had been towed. Five minutes later, a second Rendered Services tow truck slowly circled the block on Kingsbury Drive. After that driver watched a parent with two children park and walk into the school, he swooped in.
With the parent and children inside the British School, another parent, Barbara Oyebanji, pleaded with the driver to stop towing the car and offered to pay the towing fee on the spot. The tow truck driver responded that he was "just doing my job" and took off.
Some parents whose cars have been towed say they know they shouldn't be parking in the restricted lot, but the lot has roughly 50 spaces, and during the mornings only a handful are taken.
But others describe the company as predatory and claim that in some cases they are towing illegally. Fees to regain the cars are $216 per vehicle. With most of the businesses still closed early in the morning, the parking lot is nearly empty during the student drop-off hours, they say.
One parent, Eva Shimota, who said she was left stranded with her three children after her car was towed, said she has spent thousands of dollars at buybuy Baby, one of a handful of businesses that uses the parking lot. She said she was planning to go the store after picking up her kids.
On Thursday, she watched as a tow truck pulled away from the lot with her Range Rover. Inside her vehicle were her house keys and a baby seat. "I’m like, 'holy crap!'" she said.
She called the towing company immediately and told the person who answered, "Please tell him to stop! I can see the car. He is just a couple meters from me,'" Shimota said.
Shimota offered to pay over the phone if he would stop.
"I said, 'Don't make me drive that far without car seats or anything with a 6-month-old and two kids," Shimota said. "She pretty much hung up the phone on me."
Bill, the towing boss, denied that any of the towings were illegal and said that everything is recorded on a video monitor. "There are no mistakes that are made," he said.
When Shimota got to the lot where the cars were taken at 2019 W. Rascher Ave., with the help of a parent who saw her stranded, she said the attendant refused to answer any questions.
"This woman was literally laughing in my face," Shimota said.
Rendered Services was the subject of a CBS 2 investigation in 2011 that claimed it was illegally towing customers of businesses who were inside shops, a charge the company denied. The Better Business Bureau gave Rendered Services a D rating.
A number of parents who were towed said they have talked with managers of several businesses that use the parking lot — including Jimmy John's, buybuy Baby and PetSmart — and the managers all denied calling in the tows. The businesses on Thursday referred questions to the property's landlord, who couldn't be reached.
To be sure, the parking and drop-off situation outside the school can be chaotic in the morning and early afternoon, and street parking in the area nearly impossible to find.
The school has arranged for a 20-minute grace period for British School parents on the seventh floor of a nearby garage. But some parents say that is not enough time to drop off the kids, and they end up having to pay $13 to park there.
School officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The towings could end up hurting the businesses that primarily use the lot. Oyebanji said she refuses to shop at any of the businesses again.
"The businesses are not without a position," Oyebanji said. "They are entitled to have their parking, but to be towing cars away and leaving mothers and children stranded, I don’t think that’s the way to deal with it.”
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