For a motorist, few things are more aggravating than returning to your parking space and finding that your automobile has been towed. And even if the vehicle was parked in violation of municipal codes or private property rules, the emotional response to this situation is frustrating – a point that is not lost on one local towing service operator.
“I’ve done a lot of parking enforcement and towing away and I wanted to make it friendly, if there is such a thing,” said Allen Fedor, owner of Norwalk-based Fedor Auto Body Works.
Two years ago, while attending a trade show in Baltimore, Fedor came upon a new technology called The Barnacle that offered the potential of creating a more holistic approach to parking enforcement. Created by the Weston-based start-up Barnacle Parking Enforcement, the product sought to remove the motorist’s anxiety without having to remove the car itself.
“We looked at the inefficiencies in current enforcement methods,” said Kevin Dougherty, a former cybersecurity officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who developed The Barnacle. “There was somewhat of a leap to go from a ticket on your vehicle to your car being physically removed.
And the process of coming out and placing a boot on your car means you have to wait hours for someone to come and take it off. We wanted to approach the problem from a completely new direction and make something that was better for every person in the process.”
The Barnacle weighs 17 pounds and comes in a polycarbonate shell that looks like an oversized yellow folder. When opened and deployed across a windshield, it stretches three feet wide. The parking enforcement officer sets a code on the device, which locks itself onto the windshield with commercial-grade suction cups that create 1,000 pounds of force, completely obscuring the driver’s view. The driver who encounters The Barnacle on the windshield can call a telephone number on the device or go to a website and make a credit card payment, at which point a code number is provided to release the device. After the code is entered, the Barnacle unlocks itself in less than a minute.
The driver is also responsible for returning The Barnacle, either in a bin located in the lot where the vehicle was parked or to Fedor’s business at 32 Woodward Ave. in the SoNo section of Norwalk. Fedor pointed out that failing to return the device is not an option for drivers.
“We typically hold a deposit on their credit card, and if they don’t return it we charge a deposit and potentially go after them for collections,” he said.
Dougherty said he has clients in 37 states, ranging from municipalities to hospitals, universities and property owners, and Fedor is his first Connecticut client. Prior to taking on The Barnacle, Fedor researched the municipal codes in the localities he served to determine if this windshield-based approach to parking enforcement was acceptable. After confirming it could be legally used, his towing crew began placing them on vehicles in March.
“We’ve done over 500 to date,” he said. “We have 30 of them. They tend not to get used very long. Most of them get removed after a couple of hours.”
Fedor charges $110 for the removal and he noted that traditional towing could run between $150 and $180. Fedor also gives the driver 48 hours to make a payment and tows the vehicle if there is no financial response.
For those who try to remove the device, a sharp alarm creates an unpleasant acoustic warning and an alert goes back to Fedor’s office. Fedor encountered one driver who felt he could yank it away, but opted not to intervene.
“I would never have wanted to have gotten in a fight with this guy — he was huge,” he recalled. “He jumped on the hood of the car and pulled at The Barnacle and crushed the hood of the car. He got madder and got The Barnacle off, but took a good chunk of the windshield off with it.”
Dougherty added that because the parking enforcement officer enters vehicular information while deploying the device, any driver who successfully pries away The Barnacle will be tracked down and face legal problems. “We are able to go and attempt to collect for any damage to the device,” he said. “There are consequences when they go in hulk-mode.”
Dougherty hoped that people would keep their tempers under control and recognize that his product is a blessing in disguise.
“Parking enforcement is necessary, both from the government side and the private side,” he said. “It is a tough situation, and we’re trying to make that tough situation better.”