Correction, 6 a.m. Jan. 16: Kevin Dougherty; copy edits.
NORWALK, Conn. – Allen Fedor hopes to drastically reduce the number of cars his company tows from private parking lots.
Instead, under a new system Fedor will soon deploy, drivers who have illegally parked would find a hard-shelled plastic device suction-cupped to their windshield. ‘The Barnacle’ is much kinder and gentler than coming out to find their car gone, he said.
Fedor Auto Body has more than 400 contracts to tow cars from private lots, he said. It’s up to the individual property owner to decide whether they want to have a car towed or use the new system.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The company was founded by Kevin Dougherty.
“We saw existing methods of booting and towing as sometimes being over the top,” Dougherty said.
Drivers can either go online or call a number that is on the device, pay a fine and receive a numerical code that they input into the device to unlock it, they said. The Barnacle can be folded and put into the car’s backseat and must be returned within 24 hours. Drivers can take it to Fedor’s business at 32 Woodward Ave. and put it in a dropbox. Or, there may be a dropbox at the lot they were in when the device was installed.
“It’s a much friendlier way, if there is such a thing, to do this,” Fedor said. “Because the people still have access to their car. They get their car right away, they don’t have to find a Uber or a ride down here, there’s no confrontation.”
Fedor said he and Dougherty met with Mayor Harry Rilling, Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik and Deputy Chief Susan Zecca in November, to explain The Barnacle. Everyone approved, he said.
Asked about the Barnacle Tuesday, Rilling said the Parking Authority is considering it.
“This is a private issue right now,” Rilling said. “We had a meeting, and I told them it’s not for the City to support or deny. It’s their right. I had the meeting just so they could explain what they are doing. They asked for our blessing and of course I said that’s not for us to decide. You’re working for private companies, it’s for them to decide and then if there are any legal issues, they’ll come up.”
“The Parking Authority only tows cars in relation to the boot/tow operation,” Administrative Services Manager Kathryn Hebert wrote Wednesday. “It contracts with Paylock, a smart booting company. The company uses a very lightweight and reliable immobilizing device (around 12 – 15 lbs), that is put on one of the vehicle’s tires. Both the Barnacle and the Paylock ‘boot’ are lightweight and operate in a similar fashion using smart lock and release technology. The Parking Authority does review new products in the marketplace to determine the best product for its customers. At this time, there are no plans to change the current smart immobilizing device. Last year the Parking Authority towed 11 vehicles.”
Two years ago, Fedor’s was towing 50-60 cars a week but it’s down to maybe 10 a week now, Fedor said.
He went to a Baltimore tow show more than a year ago and saw The Barnacle, and decided to look into it, he said.
Both Fedor and Dougherty emphasized that parking isn’t cheap, as property prices are high in Norwalk. It isn’t right that someone who is paying a high rent comes home to find someone else in their parking space, Dougherty said.
The Redevelopment Agency commonly assigns a $40,000 value to a parking space in a new garage.
Tow trucks can’t get into the garages being built with new developments, because their lights are 8-feet high but the garages have a 6-foot, 6-inch clearance, Fedor said. The Barnacle gives property owners a remedy for people who park illegally.
Fedor said he hasn’t decided what fine a driver will pay to release The Barnacle from their car.
“There’s no limit but I want to keep it less than a tow,” Fedor said. “So, not only is it easier for people but it’s less costly. It will get the message across but make it less for everybody.”