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Russian motorists at war with tow trucks

November 12, 2014, 17:15 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Sergey Bobylev

MOSCOW, November 12. /TASS/. Moscow motorists these days have an arch foe they hate possibly more than any alien force. It’s the tow truck. Shortly after Moscow’s downtown was closed to free parking for all but local residents last year and tow vehicles began to roam the streets, the motorists went on a spontaneous protest crusade. By and large the drivers agree that order on the streets is essential, but at the same time they suspect the Moscow mayor’s office and the tow trucks on its payroll are in the first place pursuing a fast buck.

The issue is a sore point for the public at large, indeed. Similar problems have surfaced in other regions of Russia, but last month’s case of Konstantin Altukhov, a Moscow resident who instantly thought of a rather unconventional response to an attempt to take away his car made a sensation and earned him the nickname The Parkman in the social networks. The man did not hesitate to get into his car, already placed on the wreck truck’s platform before its driver started moving, and locked up himself. By the law it is prohibited to transport motor vehicles with passengers inside. The resourceful protester refused to get out of his car for 22 hours. He kept saying he had nothing against paying the fine for leaving his car parked against the rules, but he firmly refused to pay the trucker’s services.

The Parkman aroused the sympathy of some local residents who even brought him something to eat during his “sit-in” and of the Moscow police chief Anatoly Yakunin as well, who, however, urged a legal solution of the dispute. “Deep down in my heart, as an ordinary citizen, I may be on the driver’s side, but the law says once the car is on the wrecker, it must be taken to the designated destination,” Yakunin said on Tuesday, adding that if society disliked the rules, the law had to be amended.

The State Duma is trying to change the situation. So far several bills have been declined, including a proposal from Liberal Democrat legislators for cancelling the car removal rule altogether. “Car removals have turned into the humiliation of motorists. These days it is a money-making business,” says one of the law’s authors, Yaroslav Nilov.

The first toll car parks were introduced in Moscow on November 1, 2013 on several streets in the city center. A year later the toll car park area was expanded and as of December 25 it will double to spread to 405 more streets.

At the moment more than 300 tow trucks are plying Moscow streets. According to the authorities, about 800 vehicles are removed and taken to penal parking areas every day. The car removal service costs motorists an average of 5,000 rubles (about €90), plus 1,000 rubles a day for keeping the vehicle.

The social networks are simmering with indignation — the tow trucks have been labelled “green crocodiles ready to hunt their prey 36 hours a day.” Some bloggers are critical of the car removal services because instead of taking away wrongly parked cars from jammed streets they prefer to work at night and focus on cars left on quiet streets where the intensity of traffic is as low as ten vehicles an hour.

“On the one hand, I support the idea of removing cars parked in defiance of traffic rules and regard it as normal punishment for the committed abuse,” says a leading blogger, Ilya Varlamov. “On the other, I see quite a few traps being planted in Moscow in order to lure motorists into abusing traffic rules. In a situation like this, I believe that indiscriminate removal of any improperly parked vehicle is wrong.”

In the meantime, the Moscow authorities have denied permission to the non-governmental movement Motorists of Moscow to stage procession along the Garden Ring circular road in protest against toll car parks and car removal rules. Potential problems to traffic and pedestrians were mentioned as the reason.

The Motorists of Moscow movement is reluctant to give in and looks determined to press for the right to demonstrate along an alternative route.

ITAR-TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors