November 01, 2006

What happens when your car is towed in Moscow

By Rory LeGrange

As I walked out of a client pitch Tuesday morning, I discovered that my car was gone. Either it was stolen... or it was towed. After some running about, and tugging a few surly GAI away from their regular extorting activities, I managed to get out of them instructions on what to do in case my car had been towed, and how to get it back.

Apparently, I was to walk over to one of those blue taxaphone booths, dial 02, and tell them about my car.

I was greeted by an operator, who asked me for the make and model of my car, as well as a contact number. I provided all the required information, and for some reason waited around the blue booth for a call on my mobile. As it had not been confirmed to be by that point, I still had no idea whether the car was in fact towed or stolen.

After waiting several long minutes, I called a friend who'd just had her car towed, and she explained to me what needed to be done. The process was as follows: I was to go and visit the militia station on Ulitsa Durova, which is near Olympiyskiy Stadium. The car itself was likely somewhere in zhopa (ass, asshole in Russian) outside of Moscow. I was to get a ticket, payable anytime within a month, get another receipt for the return of the car, go to zhopa, pick up the car and that's apparently it.

I arrived at the cop station at about noon, and asked where I was to go in order to get my car back. The young militia guy looked at me and asked, "Where are your car's documents?"

"They're in the car, of course," I replied.

"We can't do anything until you have the car's documents."

"But...they're in the car."

He didn't even look at me. Nothing I said would convince these people to help me out. Absolutely nothing.

He gave me a few telephone numbers to call so that I could confirm whether my car was in fact towed, instead of stolen, and if this was the deal, where it could be found. The first number was answered by a surly man, who before hanging up the phone told me that he didn't have time to deal with my problem. The second was a bit more successful, and the girl on the other end managed to confirm that the car was in fact towed, and was waiting for me somewhere near Metro Kuntsevo.

I caught a cab and rode out past Metro Kuntsevo to one of the municipal parking areas for towed vehicles, more than 30 minutes away. After some buzzing at the gate, a surly guard came to the door asking me what I wanted. I explained that I had to get documents from my impounded car in order to return to a downtown militia station, so that I could return again in order to free my car. After a short pause, he walked away. I waited. Nothing. After a few minutes, I rang again and he let me in. No explanation.

The parking lot was actually quite large, however there were probably no more than 20 cars, most of which were mid to high end, late model imports. I was led to my car, which had all its doors, the trunk and hood covered by small yellow bits of tape, which served as "seals." Apparently, this was a way of indemnifying the lot of any blame in the event that something disappeared from the car. I opened the door, took the documents, and the guard quietly replaced the ripped bits of tape with new bits produced from his pocket. Meaning...anyone, including he, could steal, and just put another layer of tape on. That made me feel better.

I got back in the cab and fought traffic back to Olympiyskiy. I arrived shortly after 14:00, and couldn't find the guy who'd give me the ticket to free my car. Reason? He was on "lunch break for the next hour."

So I waited. At 15:00 I was allowed past the guard post, and told to head to the second floor, room 210. Milling around room 210 were about eight other equally despondent, weary petty criminals like myself, each waiting their individual turn to speak to the man who could free us.

Twenty minutes later I was ushered in, and asked to take a seat. The officer asked for all my documents, and after scrutinizing my Canadian driver's license for a while, started filling in forms.

"What month is February?" he asked turning to another militia officer in the office.

No reply. He turned to me. "What month is February?"

"Um, second month." I replied.

He grunted affirmatively, and continued to fill in the forms. After another fifteen minutes, he finished filling in the documents and handed me an invoice, and a form for the release of my car. I took the invoice to a nearby Sberbank, and paid the bill. It was 100 rubles. One hundred fucking rubles!

I returned to the militia station, receipt for paid invoice in hand. The officer snapped the receipt out of my hand, stamped it, and on my way out he told me that I should be careful "not to break the law."

I headed back again to the sticks where my car was, rang the buzzer for a while and after a long wait, was once again greeted by the same surly guard. After scrutinizing my Canadian driver's license for a while, turning it this way and that, he led me to my car, still covered in small bits of yellow tape.

In all, it took me about five hours to drive to Olimpiyskiy, drive to zhopa, drive back to Olimpiyskiy, wait for lunch to end, drive back to zhopa, and fill in a host of forms, all for a total of 100 rubles paid to the municipal authorities.

Some have argued that this incredible inconvenience was the real reason for this exercise and that I would now think twice about parking in a non-parking zone. However, if the true aim is to decongest the city from parked cars, then this program is a complete failure. I was parked in a cluster of about 50 cars, at the end of Tverskaya, and my removal achieved a result of leaving 49 parked cars, along with one temporarily freed spot.

If you really want to keep the zone clear, post militia officers to shoo away would-be drivers and taxi gangs away, or at least send in a good 30 tow trucks to repeatedly remove everyone until it becomes a dead zone. However, before any of this happens, I think it would be nice if someone built at least one municipal parking lot in the area.

Oh, and in case you're wondering... the dispatcher at 02 never called me back.


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