Investigation into windshield barnacles and hefty parking fines they bring to Philly drivers

Theresa Rodack was told she would have to pay $475 upfront to A Bob's Towing to have her barnacle removed.

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Friday, November 10, 2023
Investigation reveals how towing company may be skirting ticket law
Investigation into windshield barnacles and hefty parking fines they bring to Philly drivers

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An Action News Investigation has led to city council hearings on what some may consider predatory parking.

The issue is a relatively new device being used in the City of Philadelphia called a "windshield barnacle" that is suctioned to the windshield of a vehicle.

It is designed to immobilize a vehicle by blocking a driver's view, and it is removed after what many would consider a hefty fine.

Last month, the investigative team parked in a lot on the 4600 hundred block of Main Street in Manayunk.

Our team paid $7 for two hours of parking and then waited. Within just a few minutes of overstaying our parking time, a man was putting the windshield barnacle on our front window.

Action News goes undercover to investigate windshield barnacles and the hefty parking fines they bring.

Theresa Rodack also got "barnacled" in August and called the Investigative Team concerned.

"Besides it sucking onto my windshield, it sucked the life out of me that night," she said.

It happened after she said her parking expired in the same lot after she was 15 minutes late.

She called the number on the barnacle and was told she would have to pay $475 upfront to A. Bob's Towing, like us, to have it removed.

Afterward, she received a $300 refund after she removed the device and dropped it in a bin in the parking lot. In the end, the parking fine ended up costing $175.

In comparison, a parking ticket given by the Philadelphia Parking Authority on Main Street for overstaying your time would have cost just $26.

We called A. Bob's Towing after our vehicle was "barnacled" and spoke with owner Mikina Harrison.

"Listen, some would call this predatory parking. You guys know what you're doing, and you're taking advantage of paying customers," said Investigator Chad Pradelli.

The woman told us she believed the barnacles were legal, that the signage out front of the lot was transparent, and that our vehicle was not immobilized.

"Your car is not immobilized," said Harrison. "You're free to go and drive off as you feel."

Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, whose district includes Manayunk, has now called for hearings after the Investigative Team alerted him to the problem.

"My concern about them is that they are unauthorized by the City of Philadelphia," said Jones.

He wants changes to the towing laws to encompass windshield barnacles.

"It's illegal and actually unsafe," he said.

In 2016, the city passed a ticket-to-tow law that also includes towing in private pay parking lots.

A key provision of the law states: "No vehicle shall be hooked, towed, or handled in any manner under this subsection unless the vehicle has been ticketed by the police or other law enforcement authority."

Back in 2021, Mikina Harrison posted her displeasure with the law on A. Bob's Facebook page saying, "They need to reverse that ticket-to-tow."

Philadelphia police told us they've received increasing calls about windshield barnacles.

Jones said upcoming council hearings will also address fee structures and safety issues.

"So it sounds like a hustle to me," he said. "That somebody figured this out, figured this scheme out and implementing without authorization. And we're going to take a hard look at it."

Private parking lot owners run a business. And it is fair to say they should be paid when people overstay their parking, but at what cost?

The lot is owned by Rock Urban Development. Both the owners and A. Bob's Towing declined to comment on our request for an on-camera interview.

Council hearings are expected by the end of the year.