Chris Collins got off his Route 355 express bus Monday afternoon at the Woodbury Theatre Park and Ride and headed for his car. But it was not there.
Neither were the vehicles of more than 25 others who had their cars towed from the theater lot at 1470 Queens Drive — and had to pay $350 to get them back.
“It was like a nasty April Fool’s prank,” said Collins, who for the past 14 years has parked in the lot that’s owned by Metro Transit and leased to the theater. “A number of us feel we were wronged.”
The lot on the south side of the theater has two sides. One side is clearly marked with signs indicating that stalls are reserved for theater patrons only, and that violators will be towed at their expense. The other side where Collins and many of the others had parked Monday has no signage and appears to be available to commuters using the park-and-ride service.
As commuters got off their buses Monday after work, many who had parked in the designated part of the lot found their vehicles gone and had no idea where they were.
“That was a very unpleasant surprise,” said Belinda Cole, of Hudson, Wis., who had to call her husband to pick up their kids before day care closed. “I feel the $350 shortage. I’m ticked off.”
Collins said that the lack of clear instructions makes it hard to know exactly where and where not to park. But towing that many cars from an area where rules are not explicitly spelled out was a “draconian” approach to solve a problem.
“There is a colossal problem with communication,” he said. “I need somebody to definitively show where in the area of the parking lot I can park in.”
Adding fuel to the fire is that nobody seems to be taking responsibility for ordering the tows. Cole, who said she parked in the last row where parking was allowed, said she went to the theater manager to get answers, but got none.
A Metro Transit spokesman said the agency did not have the vehicles towed and only became aware of the problem after it happened.
Spokesman Howie Padilla said the agency will review video footage to see where in the lot the cars were towed from. The agency also will investigate why the tows occurred and who was responsible. The lot, which is often full, is a long-standing official designated park-and-ride lot and commuters are allowed to park in areas not designated as theater parking, Padilla said.
“This is not something Metro Transit coordinated,” Padilla said. “We were not involved in the decision to tow. We don’t know the answer. We will try to get answers ourselves.”
A man who answered the phone at the Woodbury Theater Tuesday said the owner was out of town and would be the only person who could comment, noting the owner would not be available until Friday.
Messages left with the towing company, Rapid Response, were not returned.
A few people called Woodbury police for help, but Cmdr. John Altman said there was little they could do. Since the incident occurred on private property, the department does not have authority to enforce parking regulations. Car owners, he said, would have to take up the matter with Metro Transit, the theater and the towing company.
“This was a big screw-up,” said frequent park-and-ride lot user Ken Smith, of Woodbury. “A whole parking lot went missing.”
Collins said somebody has some explaining to do.
“Thirty people got caught in a fight between the theater and Metro Transit,” Collins said. “They took in a lot of money in the wrong.”