IT'S PROM NIGHT. Anne Arundel teen-agers decide to take light rail to the downtown affair. They leave their car at a shopping center near the light rail stop because the Mass Transit Administration parking lot is full. After a night of dancing and dining, they return to find an empty space where they had parked the car.
The car hasn't been stolen; rather, a towing company has hauled it for being parked illegally. This common practice allows the company to command a hefty fee -- as much as $190 -- to release the impounded vehicle.
The Anne Arundel County Council is trying to deter towing companies that pursue illegally parked cars with the vigor of ambulance-chasing lawyers.
At the urging of county police, the council recently approved a bill that will require signs in parking lots that notify nonpatrons that their vehicles may be towed.
Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., who sponsored this bill, says towing companies prey on unsuspecting motorists. Often, whether these towers even have contracts with parking lot owners is unclear. The required warning signs on parking lots will indicate which towing company is authorized to remove illegally parked cars. When the law takes effect in a month, it will also limit to $70 the amount tow companies can charge owners to retrieve their vehicles. The law will outlaw the use of "spotters" -- people paid by towing companies to detect illegally parked vehicles on commercial lots.
Mr. Klosterman believes the $70 maximum fee will make this business less enticing.
This legislation, however, does not resolve all light-rail parking woes. If MTA wants to encourage more light rail riders, it has to do more to provide enough legal park-and-ride spaces. Otherwise, many light rail riders will choose another way to get to ballgames, work or high school proms.