Why Philly has about 35,000 abandoned vehicles yet to be towed

Some abandoned cars have been sitting for two years without being towed
An abandoned car.
Photo credit Gitanzali Wagh/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Lorenzo Jackson lives on a narrow block of tidy row houses in Southwest Philadelphia. When two cars showed up with no connection to any of his neighbors, he called 311 to report them.

That was in 2020. The cars are still there.

“The neighbors just sweep around them now. We don’t know who they belong to or anything like that,” said Jackson about the leftovers of a very complicated problem.

“It feels like we’re moving backwards or we’re staying stagnant.”

Such abandoned cars have become the latest blight on Philadelphia streets. At a City Council hearing on Friday, officials said they estimate a backlog of 35,000 vehicles that need to be towed.

“I want to just pause here for a second,” Councilmember Jamie Gauthier responded, “142 business days, that’s like seven months, so the better part of a year to get an abandoned car removed currently.”

“They’re looking at recent averages, and this is with the pandemic,” explained Philadelphia Police Capt. Laverne Vann of the Neighborhood Services Unit.

“The COVID thing. The COVID thing. The COVID thing. That’s all I’ve been hearing for two years,” Jackson exclaimed.

Vann further explained the complex process that follows a report, saying that police go out and run the car through their system. If it is not reported stolen or an immediate safety hazard, they give the owner a warning.

“We are not allowed to tow, by state statute,” Vann said. “We have to notify the owner by certified mail.”

Vann added that the backlog from COVID-19 has grown with short staffing.

Mayor Jim Kenney also blames the pandemic, but said the city plans to speed up the process.

“We’re working on it right now with the Parking Authority, private towers,” Kenney said. “We’ll be addressing it this summer.”

The City of Philadelphia says that people can report abandoned vehicles via mobile appweb portal, or email. They can also call 311 within city limits, or 215-686-8686 if they happen to be dialing while outside city limits. However, all calls must involve abandoned vehicles within the city.

If the city has towed your vehicle, you can call 215-685-9500 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to find out how to get your vehicle back.

More: City of Philadelphia information about how to call in reports of abandoned vehicles.