October 12, 2004

Curious George: The tow-truck/property owner conspiracy- does it exist? [more inside]

Say I'm StoreOwner Bob. My store has closed four hours ago, but there are cars parked in the three parking spaces dedicated to my establishment. What's in it for me to call the towing company to take these cars away? Do I get any commission from the towing company for providing them with this revenue? relevant anecdote: I talked my way out of a hefty fine tonight- the dude wanted to charge me 75 dollars just to NOT take my car away, or else 225 to get it from the lot. That seems like serious extortion, and something they should be charging StoreOwnerBob for, not me, especially when I got to my car just in the nick of time.

  • Here in the shitty small burb that I live in, there is indeed a connection between the tow company and property owners. In our wee downtown, parking is a premium, there is a large lot owned by a complete asshole. If you park there, you will be towed. The city is apparently trying to buy the lot, but why should the owner sell? They're making to damn much money from the tow companies and of course the city hasn't the backbone to do something about this.
  • There's a long story behind these but I'll be brief. One of the apartment complexes I used to live in had the same kind of relationship with the towing agency. Once I was towed by accident. The towing company just towed my perfectly cleaned off car instead of the one they were supposed to tow next to me, which was a snow-covered SUV. The second time they towed me, it was because my registration tag wasn't up to date. Not because my registration had expired, but because I screwed up putting the sticker on and it fell off without me knowing. Also, when I was working for an unnamed large retail corporation, they had a deal with the towing companies. Same deal as the first towing, they took my car, at that time a 1990 Dodge Ram, which was cleaned off, instead of the snow-covered Civic that the company wanted towed out of the employee area. And since it had snowed hard that night and I worked a 10-hour midnight shift, it could be possible that my car was a bit snow-covered (but not looking abandoned). The truck was also in four-wheel drive when I parked it, but luckily they didn't damage anything by towing it. I ended up having my employer pay for it, since it was not my fault that I was towed at all. That took a considerable amount of shouting and accusations, believe me. They wanted $200 to get my truck out of the lot, which was, at that point, a little less than a weeks salary. There wasn't any way I was going to pay it.
  • Something you might want to do is tell everyone the name of that business, and go in there and tell the owner that you're pissed off about the way that you were treated. It's his right to tow you, but it's your right to not shop there again and to let everyone you know know why you're boycotting them.
  • Sorry, long post.... Abusive towing absolutely exists, driven by a combination of a few greedy property owners and desperate, criminally minded towing operators. While I empathize with owners whose parking facilities are being abused, there is no excuse for the ones who treat their property like a honey trap for towing kickbacks. At the same time, in most cities the towing business is desperately competitive, with a glut of operators. That environment encourages 'creative thinking' by operators trying to survive, or simply weeds out the honest ones. Also, private ticketing agencies have popped up in recent years, marketing themselves to lot owners and encouraging abusive practices. The best way to fight back is to get some action going at the municipal level and press the city council to pass some laws limiting towing abuse. This is usually a nicely bipartisan goal, as regular citizens hate being towed, and most business owners will realize they're losing traffic because customers won't try to park near their store, etc for fear of being towed. This sort of abuse drives customers out to the suburbs where cheap land allows big box stores to have huge lots. When towing started getting out of hand in my current city, it first passed a law saying the towing lot operators couldn't hold your car. They must release it to you on demand. Then the city passed a law stating that private tickets were unenforceable. They were an infringement on municipal jurisdiction and could not be enforced. Parking tickets are often a major revenue source for cities, and they will guard this turf jealously once they're aware of the competition. Of course, someone had to get the ball rolling, and it took a stubborn car owner who hauled a towing operator to court and got a ruling that the towing company couldn't hold his car. The case got tons of popular press from day one and things took off quickly from there. It's usually an easy choice for the politicos, because there are normally a lot more ticked off voters and business owners than towing companies. Of course, situations always evolve. The latest twist in this locale is that the private ticketers have taken issuing tickets that look *very* official and governmental. That's a tricky line to straddle legitimately and the city is now taking several of them to court on criminal fraud charges, once again to protect the city's parking ticket action, as well as mollify voters. All that said, I once managed a business with a decent size lot in an area of limited parking. We had three commuters abusing our busy facilities daily. We tried talking to all of them nicely and were told to @#$% off - they knew the bylaws governing private parking and wouldn't move because our parking signage didn't contain precisely the proper enforceable wording. Had to change all the signs before they gave it up.
  • As someone who was oiwn the verge of engaging a tow company to deal with all the tards who used my driveway for parking I have NO SYMPATHY! Perhaps Bob would like to have his parks free for nightfill staff, or to use in the wee small hours when doing something in that part of town. Perhaps Bob has had one too many people park overnight and still be there in the morning when Bob needs the parks.
  • Towing request faked, state investigator finds (May, 2004 Seattle Times article).