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Street Smart

City Hasn't Abandoned Callers to Its Junk Car Hot Line

September 27, 1993|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Delays in government services are nothing new.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the mail was so slow that Romans complained because their invitations to the orgies often arrived days after they were over.

So I expected government slothfulness was to blame when several readers wrote to complain about the lack of service they received from a Los Angeles program to cite and tow abandoned vehicles.

Under the program, citizens can call 1-800-ABANDON to summon a parking enforcement officer who is supposed to investigate complaints within a couple of days.

Some readers who have tried the number say they feel like they have been abandoned. "The number I called, 1-800-222-6366, does not respond with any kind of answer," said Bob Lawless of La Crescenta.

As it turns out, the problem has to do with supply failing to meet demand.

Jimmy Price, a support services manager for the city's Department of Transportation, said calls to that number have skyrocketed in recent months, to the point where the answering machine cannot handle the volume.

The increase in calls is not due to more abandoned cars, but to more people learning about the service, he says. (I guess I'm partly to blame for referring readers to it.)

"The system does work, it's just that the demand has outgrown the system," he said, adding that nearly 1,000 of the 11,000 calls received each month are not recorded because the system has reached capacity.

But fear not. Price said the city is studying the system to find a way to increase capacity. It should be a matter of only a few weeks before the system can adequately hold all the abandoned vehicle complaints.

I'll bet the Romans handled abandoned vehicles in a more expeditious way. A centurion would come along and say: "Brutus, I see your chariot is once again parked in front of Caesar's villa. It looks like you'll have a date with the lions."

Dear Street Smart:

My pet freeway peeve is this: In many places you can't see how the freeway traffic is moving before you enter the on-ramp. How much congestion could be reduced if there was some clue to traffic conditions at the entrance to these blind on-ramps. Once on the ramp, you've no choice but to add to the already backed-up traffic.

A strategically placed mirror giving a view of the freeway would do the trick in some instances.

Mary Shaffer

Van Nuys

Dear Reader:

It's an interesting suggestion. But this being TV land, I fear actors and models will slow down around these mirrors to make sure their hair and makeup are perfect.

Mirrors might help in a few spots, but the best view of traffic is still from the air. Now, I know what you are thinking: "I hope this guy isn't going to recommend I listen to those boring traffic reports on the radio."

Well, I am going to recommend traffic reports. These airborne reporters have come a long way in recent years. They are now hooked up to traffic information from the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, and even drivers calling from car phones.

Granted, some traffic reports are a waste of time because they are offered too infrequently or provide information that isn't current. But if you take the time to scan your dial, you'll find a few good local reports.

Also, Caltrans operates a toll-free number, 1-800-427-ROAD, which informs callers about major freeway closures and road blocks throughout the state caused by accidents or weather.

Dear Street Smart:

Some months ago, I was driving on a freeway, moving along with the traffic flow, when a BMW passed me at very high speed. The driver switched back and forth among the lanes to gain every advantage.

But a few miles ahead, the traffic began to slow and then stop. The BMW had side-swiped a car and hit the divider. The accident damaged some of the freeway structure and caused a massive backup.

My question is: The BMW driver is obviously liable for damage to the other car and its occupants, but is he also liable for damage to the freeway, for cleanup of the mess and for the time of the officers involved?

What about the cost of pollution and hundreds of lost man hours due to the traffic delay?

David Haldeman

Studio City

Dear Reader:

I understand your frustration with these people in fast, expensive cars, who zoom around trying to get ahead of the rest of us fools driving 15-year-old sub-mini-compacts.

What these rich pinheads don't understand is that it no longer matters how much horsepower is under your hood. During peak commuting times, we all crawl home at something less than warp speed.

But to answer your question, yes, local governments can go after reckless drivers for damage to streets, bridges and median dividers. For example, the city of Los Angeles collected $1.1 million in the past three years in 2,367 cases of reckless drivers causing damage to city property.

CHP Officer Pablo Torres said the state has even gone after drivers whose reckless driving causes other motorists to damage freeways. In other words, the pinhead doesn't even have to hit the divider to be held liable for the damage.

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