Towing shakedown riles east metro commuters

If you live east of St. Paul you have to really be committed to mass transit to ride mass transit, given the hurdles one has to jump over to use what little there is — like having your car towed from an official park-and-ride for no good reason.

The Star Tribune says several dozen cars were towed from the lot on Monday, but nobody will say why or claim knowledge of it.

The lot, which will be the ending point of the Gold Line bus rapid transit line someday, is owned by Metro Transit and leased to the low-budget Woodbury Theatre.

Commuters got off their express bus from Minneapolis and found their cars were missing, even though they appeared to park where they’re allowed to park.

Was that you, Metro Transit?

“This is not something Metro Transit coordinated,” spokesperson Howie Padilla tells the Strib. “We were not involved in the decision to tow. We don’t know the answer. We will try to get answers ourselves.”

How about you, Woodbury Theatre?

A man who answered the phone at the Woodbury Theater Tuesday said the owner was out of town and would be the only person who could comment, noting the owner would not be available until Friday.

What do you know about this, Rapid Response Towing?

Messages left with the towing company, Rapid Response, were not returned.

Woodbury cops? You got anything?

Cmdr. John Altman said there was little they could do. Since the incident occurred on private property, the department does not have authority to enforce parking regulations. Car owners, he said, would have to take up the matter with Metro Transit, the theater and the towing company.

The unexplained shakedown cost each commuter $350 to get their car back.

“Thirty people got caught in a fight between the theater and Metro Transit,” commuter Chris Collins said. “They took in a lot of money in the wrong.”

There will likely be fewer people on the bus this week.

  • Erick

    It all reminds me of the old Steve Goodman song, “Lincoln Park Pirates.”

  • MrE85

    Regardless of who called for the tow, if I was the communications person for Metro Transit (whom I know, BTW), I would press to refund these people’s money, and offer them each a $50 metro pass. That $12,000 would be will spent to rebuild the trust and good will.

    This will be a good test of Wes Kooistra, the new Metro Transit manager. Let’s see if there is a decision on this by the end of the day.

  • Al

    Ohhhhh, that’s not a good look for either party.

    Teeeeeechnically, the terminus for the Gold Line in Woodbury is a new park & ride separate from the Woodbury Theater, closer to 494 (the theater is now just a stop and not the end).

    I think now I understand why the park & ride moved.

    • Good lord, the more I look at this route, the more it looks like a disaster of a route for the people who needed it the most. Thanks a lot, Lake Elmo.

      That terminus needs to be out on Manning and 94.

      • Al

        Likely not happening any time soon, given the bridge going in over 94 connecting Helmo & Bielenberg. (How long would it have taken Lake Elmo to come around to accepting development, having stonewalled it for so many years already?) I think Metro Transit realized they had a shot to get transit in the door in the East Metro, and took it.

        • The thing is: Lake Elmo already IS becoming North Woodbury. It’s just insane that the line isn’t going farther east. It’s the typical lack of long-term vision — get what you can now and worry about the rest later — that has made MN a public transportation backwater.

          • Al

            When transportation and infrastructure aren’t funded or advocated for, is something that meets many needs better than nothing, or is nothing at all better?

          • Al

            Also: It feels like, given the recent development blooming in Lake Elmo, if Metro Transit could’ve asked again they might’ve gotten a different answer (maybe). By the time Lake Elmo has started to slowly come around, it’s too late in the planning process to stop and change the route.

          • Should be fun around 2024-2026 when thousands of people moving into those Lake Elmo townhomes and houses in North Woodbury come driving onto underbuilt woodbury streets to get on the Gold Line.

            Just ridiculous.

          • lusophone

            I think our mentality in these parts that sees public transit as the last resort transportation option instead of a very viable and useful one is what prevents many of us from having a more long-term vision But it’s a vicious cycle..

          • Sans Comedy

            It’s what happens when we have to compromise the development visions of people who see MSP as a competitor of Seattle and Denver, and those who see us as a competitor of Des Moines and Sioux Falls.

          • QuietBlue

            It’s very much a competitor for both, just not for the same people.

        • Robert McManus

          I don’t think any community should be forced to accept development if they’re against it. That kind of tripe is undemocratic and favors only the developer. And raising that issue in this discussion is a perfect example of the straw man to change the subject.

          • Al

            Um, of course they shouldn’t. I think you might be responding the wrong comment.

          • Regional planning is a logical approach to efficient infrastructure.

            Or is everyone in Lake Elmo a proud owner of a septic system?

          • Mike Worcester

            Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, groups like the Center for American Experiment were railing against transit planning, calling it “social engineering”, and claiming it would force people to only live in areas served by a train. Bunk of course, but it was an effective tactic, eventually leading to, as you noted, Northstar terminating in a corn field.

      • Sans Comedy

        Amazing that this started life as a Northstar style commuter rail route to Eau Claire. Thanks to Annette Meeks ensuring Northstar wouldn’t reach ridership targets by ending it in a cornfield, we were guaranteed to never see that kind of commuter transit investment in the region ever again, let alone on the east side…

        • Al

          As recently as a few years ago, it was at least Hudson-bound. Logistics and “public feedback” nixed that one.

          • Sans Comedy

            I just can’t believe we’re spending half the cost of an LRT line to build a bus to Woodbury with its own dedicated road. I know the east side gets testy about how much investment goes to Minneapolis over StP, but come on, this is ridiculous. First a $750mil bridge to subsidize sprawl in WI, now this. I’d rather spend a billion on a train to places people actually live (like the Riverview line) than half a billion on this bus to Woodbury.

          • One word: 3M.

            One of the things that’s been illuminating driving lift is the number of low-income people who are commuting to jobs in the east metro, reverse commuting.

            The other thing that has to be a factor in transportation planning is housing. As the city has become more exclusive to the monied, rents are no longer sustainable for low-income people, so their choices are to move out of the city where affordable housing either exists or being built. The problem is they’re farther removed from public transportation and can’t afford to get to work.

            Increasingly, the suburbs aren’t a place where people just live, they’re places where people work as corporate campuses sprout. Woodbury, for example, is becoming more of a health care campus. Of course, the short-sightedness of planners doesn’t take riders anywhere near where the health care facilities are, because they’re operating under the theory that the only thing the suburbs have is a Target (psst…. there’s a Target already on the Gold Line; it’s off White Bear).

            But in the end, yes, transportation planning usually is dictated by the people with the loudest voices who insist that public transportation should be for people who are just like them.

            But what really makes transportation planning difficult is it’s actually used as an economic development tool, which only exacerbates the affordable housing problem.

            The whole lack of vision and holistic approach to the future is Minnesota government in a nutshell. It’s insane.

          • Al

            Let’s leave Woodbury out of it for a minute: For folks in Landfall, Oakdale, and Battle Creek, who don’t have a whole heck of a lot of speedy transit access (if any), the Gold Line is a huge deal. For folks in Landfall and Oakdale who are tired of being run off the roads by 3M commuters, this is also a pretty big deal.

          • Yep, it’s been interesting watch it dwindle to the east metro version of Northstar, which obviously had to go all the way to St. Cloud to make any real sense.

          • Mike Worcester

            Having used Northstar (and not just for Twins games), it is a good way to go. And there are those who are pushing as hard as they can within the current political climate for it to be extended to St. Cloud.

          • It’s ridiculous that it was stopped in Big Lake.

        • I don’t think so. It started as possible light rail. Separately, there was commuter rail , which was the Red Rock line.

          That is now Red Rock Corridor which will only go to Hastings, and I believe that, too, is going to be BRT.

  • MrE85

    On a related note, I recently looked for official park and ride lots along the Green Line. My wife and I want to take the train to a Saints game.

    There aren’t any. And yet the Blue Line has ’em.

    • Nope. Target parking lot is as close as it comes. Maybe it’s because they don’t want people to drive cars into the city, though, because of the route…it’s 100% in city whereas the blue line isn’t.

    • lusophone

      If you’re not finding desirable “free” parking anywhere along the Green Line, you could look at off-street parking somewhere along the A-Line (points north or south of University) and take that to Snelling and University and get on the Green Line there.

    • Sans Comedy

      The Green Line isn’t designed for that. It passes by real estate that’s far too valuable to be free car storage. Depending on the direction you’re coming from, I’d agree with lusophone on the A-Line, which functions as a faster, better bus service along Snelling that connects with the Green Line and serves areas with lots of free parking.

      • MrE85

        Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve ridden the A-Line before.

        • Sans Comedy

          It’s honestly wonderful. Fast boarding, comfortable seats, and signal priority makes it a quick ride too. We need to be rolling out these aBRT routes like yesterday.

    • Jerry

      I suppose parking at the office and walking to a station is past convenience distance. I know I would take the Blue Line more if I was just a little closer.

  • 212944

    That Woodbury PD is kicking the can down the road is hardly a surprise, but still disappointing.

    • That’s the law, though. It’s on private property.

      • 212944

        Isn’t is public-owned property, as the Met Council – a state entity directed by the legislature – owns it?

        • I need to doublecheck the Strib on the ownership thing. The Woodbury Theatre was there long before the park and ride was.

        • RBHolb

          If the Met Council owned the property but leased it to the theater, it may be the functional equivalent of private property.

          • 212944

            My memory is that the theater is only leasing select spaces within the lot.

            Isn’t the issue here that it was the cars rightly parked in the spaces not leased by the theater that were towed? Or am I incorrect on that?

          • I wonder when Metro Transit bought the lot?

  • lusophone

    “There will likely be fewer people on the bus this week.” All the better for those who still really appreciate Metro Transit and hate driving to work.

    • I’m not sure “a horrible customer experience” is a sound business principle. But, of course, after 7:50 a.m. it doesn’t matter, I guess.

      • lusophone

        Just speaking from the point of view of the person on the bus this week, might have a little extra room to stretch out.

        And speaking about horrible customer experiences, those of us who ride the bus in the city frequently live with those as a given. The rides out to the suburbs and back are a piece of cake in comparison, yet, the 5 or the 21 etc., remain packed every day of the week.

  • Brian Simon

    The underlying problem is that many stops are not conducive to park-and-ride users. In my neighborhood, near the 50th st stop on hiawatha / blue line, local residents have to deal with uptown like parking density from commuters & sports fans. It’s rather a pain, but there’s not a great solution. More irritating are the folks that park-and-ride to the airport for multi-day trips… Hey – mind if I leave my car in front of your house for a week? I know those sometimes get towed, but only if they’re there for 3 days after being reported.

    • Barton

      I agree. Metro Transit made a mistake by not figuring out some park and ride solution for the LRT. I walk to the 38th Street Station (or take the bus to the station), my neighbor drives to the 50th Street Station and parks in your neighborhood all day.

      • Kassie

        We should have a South Minneapolis NewsCut Meetup. Lots of us in the neighborhood. A Bob’s retiring party at the Cardinal maybe, we could even invite Bob.

        • lusophone

          Very cool idea, I’d definitely be up for that!

        • I worked out a deal with Julia Schrenkler — MPR social media boss — years ago to buy pizza to celebrate my retirement. The party will be held here the day AFTER my departure.

          • lusophone

            Is she buying the pizza? And what kind? Not that I think I’m invited, just curious.

          • I’m funding the party.

          • lusophone

            OK, I get it. So the deal is they let you back in the building the day after your departure as long as you bring pizza.

          • No, you’re missing the nuance here. It will be a celebration (by my former colleagues) of the fact I’ve left. I won’t actually be there.

          • Rob

            When’s your last day doing NewsCut?

          • 5/31

      • lusophone

        I don’t really like the idea of park and rides in the city so much. At first I thought the parking lot at Lake St would need to be bigger or at least preserved, but now I am fully converted to the anti-parking lot group within the city itself.

  • BKE

    But how could _both_ the Theater and the Towing Co not notice that the cars were properly parked?

    • lusophone

      Interesting update.

  • Postal Customer

    Related news on MPR: Niceride is out of St Paul. Would like to know more about that.