The Columbia Parking Enforcement Division plans to start phasing in a relatively new technology called "The Barnacle" beginning July 17. The device could eventually replace towing vehicles that have multiple unpaid parking violations.
The Barnacle, a bright yellow device that is suctioned to the windshield of an automobile, immobilizes the vehicle by obstructing the windshield and sounds an alarm if the driver attempts to move the vehicle or remove the device. Vehicles with four or more unpaid parking violations are subject to being towed or immobilized.
The City will save money with The Barnacle by reducing the staff hours required to tow a vehicle. By comparison, towing a vehicle can take up to an hour and two parking enforcement agents to administer. The Barnacle can be deployed in a matter of minutes by a single agent. For the customer, there are several benefits as well:
- They know exactly where their vehicle is located because their vehicle won't be physically moved.
- They can still access any items left inside their vehicle.
- They will not have to travel to an offsite, privately run impound lot.
- They will not have to pay towing and impound fees.
To remove the device, the owner of the vehicle must first pay all past parking tickets as well as operational fees associated with The Barnacle within 24 hours or be towed. Once all citations and the immobilization fees are paid, a parking enforcement agent can release the device Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"The Barnacle will be used for a very specific purpose," Transit & Parking Manager Drew Brooks said. "It will not replace all towing. In addition to saving the City and customer time and money, the driver knows exactly where their vehicle is when it's immobilized and what they need to do to get it unlocked. It's all explained on the accompanying sticker."
A number of other cities are using the immobilization device, including Allentown, Penn.
"Folks have responded very positively to The Barnacle as an alternative to towing. It's easily noticeable to the driver and a more efficient process for both the driver and the Parking Utility team to complete the resolution process," Allentown's Scofflaw Supervisor John Haney said.
The Columbia Parking Utility currently has three of the devices and will purchase more if the need arises. The device will not be used after 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays so that customers will have ample opportunity to have it removed before offices close on Friday.
"If all three devices are deployed, then we would use conventional towing after that," Parking Supervisor Tanner Morrell said. "For now, it will only be used on vehicles with at least four outstanding parking violations. And needless to say, conventional towing will continue to be used for time-sensitive violations such as parking in a fire lane or on a roadway where ‘No Parking' signs have been posted."