The recent snow emergency in Minneapolis brought in nearly $1 million in fines and fees (4,615 snow emergency related towings per open data request, each around $200 in fines and fees equaling $923,000), the majority of that extracted from low-income neighborhoods, squeezing budgets of already rent burdened communities. A $200 fine for many means constrained budgets for necessities like food and housing. That money is required to get a car back. If someone can’t pay, it will go up $18 per day. Only after that can you schedule a hearing to challenge, reduce, or eliminate those fines.
The data speaks. Snow emergency fines and fees prey on low income, non-English speaking residents of color.
Visiting the Minneapolis impound lot the day after the snow emergency to help a friend, I saw the majority of people were not white and non-English was not their primary language. The only other white person besides myself was a Ukrainian refugee who was confused, frustrated, and needed support from an English speaker to navigate the system.
While wealthier neighborhoods are likely to have more leisure time, work at home and resources available to clear sidewalks and move vehicles during snow emergencies, low income neighborhoods may face higher language barriers to understand snow emergency rules and less resources to clear sidewalks and move snowed-in vehicles.
As plows cleared the streets and low-income residents cars were towed – their primary means of winter transportation amidst underfunded transit and snowed in bike lanes – sidewalks also remained inaccessible. A neighbor of mine without a car walked in the streets next to traffic in order to get hot food because the sidewalks were not useable. A municipal sidewalk shoveling program would cost every resident about $47 a year. This would not only improve accessibility and safety for everyone, but it would allow residents to give more attention to avoiding predatory fines and fees.
Spencer Polk is an Urban Planning student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and lives in South Minneapolis.