This City's 'Historic Deluge' of Abandoned Cars Has No Fix in Sight

Included in backlog of 34K vehicle complaints in Philly: speedboats, campaign van, Tastykake trucks
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2022 1:26 PM CDT
Philly Has a Pesky Problem—34K of Them, in Fact
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/kayasit)

The city of Philadelphia is more than happy to offer info on how residents can file a report on abandoned cars in the metro area. "Glad you asked!" reads the city's page devoted to "one of our most frequently submitted service requests." And they're not kidding on that "most frequently submitted" part: Per an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer of data from the city's 311 nonemergency call center, there's a "historic deluge" of abandoned-car complaints currently in limbo—more than 34,000 of them, in fact, without a good system in place to handle the backlog. The average number of cars towed before the pandemic began came out to about 10,000 to 12,000 cars a year, but towing activity has since dropped, while complaints of vehicles neglected within the city's boundaries spiked fivefold between April 2020 and the beginning of 2022.

After a report is filed, it might now take six months to see a vehicle towed; in 2020, it took about two months. And it's not just forlorn SUVs and sedans left lingering, though there are plenty of those: The Inquirer also documented abandoned speedboats; cherry pickers; flatbed trailers; trucks used by snack company Tastykake, headquartered in the city; and a campaign van once used by Scott Wagner, who ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 2018. One of the possible causes cited by the city for the rising number of complaints includes high unemployment during the pandemic that may have led people to simply ditch their wheels, as well as more people idling at home to report the abandoned vehicles.

There also haven't been enough cops to handle the complaints and authorize removal of the vehicles, with many police officers reassigned to other units for more pressing matters during the pandemic, such as fighting crime—a fact residents say is ironic, as the abandoned cars are often broken into and used for prostitution or drug deals. Things don't look to improve much in the near future, either: There are no immediate plans for any mass-towing efforts, nor to put cops en masse back on abandoned-car detail, per a city spokesperson. "We've created an environment of lawlessness," leaving locals "feeling like the city doesn't care about them," Philly Council member Maria Quinones-Sanchez tells the Inquirer. (More Philadelphia stories.)

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