San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by BRAD ROLLINS

When wrecker companies asked two months ago for across-the-board increases in the fees they’re allowed to charge vehicle owners for forced tows, most San Marcos City Council members told them to hit the road.

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» Proposed tow fee schedule [pdf]

“It’s not a lot of work to back up your flatbed, put a car on it and leave. And I think the volume on these non-consent tows is probably adequate for them to cover their costs and make a living,” said council member Kim Porterfield, who told colleagues that she watches from her office window all day as wreckers steadily haul off cars from a strip mall across the street.

Council members Shane Scott and Ryan Thomason were so uninterested in the requested fee hikes, in fact, that they suggested lowering the caps, instead.

Scott said he would move to lower the charge for non-consent tows of illegally parked cars from $75 to $50 — lower than the rate 10 years ago — and prohibit tow companies from charging “show up” and “drop” fees for drivers who return to their vehicle just in the nick of time. Thomason chimed in, “I’m on board.”

Said Porterfield, “I’m satisified with the way it is. Let’s just go on our way.”

That’s the message Police Chief Howard E. Williams received and delivered to wrecker company owners. He said he thought the council’s initial reaction was so unmistakably unfriendly that the tow companies would back off their request for a while. The police department oversees the city’s wrecker company regulations, including the towing fee caps.

“It may be in their interest not to bring it up again because it sounds like [the council] may cut their fees instead of raise them,” Williams said last week. The fees are set “at the council’s pleasure and they don’t seem too interested in hearing it again anytime soon.”

It appears, however, that tow truck companies — who have successfully persuaded previous councils to see things their way — aren’t prepared to drop the request. Mayor Daniel Guerrero told the San Marcos Mercury this morning that the council will re-consider the companies’ fee cap increase request at an upcoming meeting, either on June 19 or July 17.

“The last time it came up, it was the end of a long meeting and it’s a very detailed ordinance. I think we’re going to give it another look,” Guerrero said.

The owner of Saucedo’s Wrecker Service and Southwest Towing — the city’s two largest wrecker outfits — did not return calls for comment this week and last.

Although state law regulates the storage and impound fees that wrecker companies can charge vehicle owners, the authority to regulate the fees companies charge for “non-consent,” “police-authorized” and “accident” tows lies with City Hall.

Local tow companies are asking the council to raise the maximum fee for “non-consent tows” — removing illegally parked vehicles from private property — from $75 to $125. In addition, they want to increase the charge for hauling off vehicles following accidents or arrests from $150 to $185.

When the council last considered fee increases in 2008, residents turned up at meetings to complain about what they called predatory and overly aggressive towing, especially in the downtown and Texas State University areas.

With its notoriously rigid no-tolerance parking policy, the Nelson Center — a strip retail mall between campus and downtown that Porterfield mentioned in her remarks — always figures prominently in the discussions. City records compiled at the time showed tows from the Nelson Center accounted for more than a tenth of all the non-consent tows in the city recorded during a 12-month period in 2007 and 2008.

But the center’s custodian was among the chorus of people who argued that wrecker companies get a bad rap for keeping private property clear of unwanted vehicles.

“The predatory towing you’re talking about isn’t predatory at all. I contract with [a tow truck company] simply so my merchants can stay in business,” the Nelson Center’s general manager told council members in 2008.

Even so, council members at the time adopted an ordinance on first reading that would have required tow companies be summoned by property owners for each illegally parked vehicle. But the rule — intended to prevent tow truck companies from camping outside privately-owned parking lots waiting for people to park improperly — was stripped from the ordinance under pressure from wrecker companies before it was even implemented.

Instead, the council passed an ordinance that raised fees across-the-board — the one still in effect now — and that requires the city council to review the fee schedule periodically.

Besides indications from Scott, Thomason and Porterfield that they are wary of increasing tow fees, council member John Thomaides said tow companies would have to justify to him why they need to increase the amounts they charge involuntary customers.

“I’ve been through these towing issues before and I’m not comfortable without an explanation on why,” Thomaides said. “We hear a lot about towing, chief, and you know it and everyone else here knows it. To change these [fees] in a vacuum without any explanation is not something I can do.”

Asked directly by Thomaides what he thought about the proposed fee increases, Williams singled out the companies’ request to hike non-consent tow fees from $75 to $125.

Said Williams, “I believe that is too much, personally. I would rather agree with Ms. Porterfield that these are not expensive or difficult tows. Usually they’re just sitting in a parking lot and it’s back up and go. I think $75 is probably more than adequate to cover their expenses.”

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19 thoughts on “Wrecker companies want to raise forced towing fees

  1. I wonder if Saucedo and Southwest realize that if the fees are increased the market becomes more attractive to a competitor. That would be an amusing consequence.

  2. Towing fees should be left as they are or decreased. It is one of the most negative encounters that out-of-town visitors complain about. One of the overhead costs that towing companies are including in their bottom line are the round-the-clock employees that sit in a parking lot on their cell phone who call the instant a person steps off the property. Within ten minutes the tow truck that was idling around the corner has the car loaded and is leaving the lot. Considering that this happens all day every day – there is money being made.

    Council can leave fees as they are (or decrease) and then the towing companies can decide if they can make money or not.

  3. How can anyone that has not looked at the costs associated with the tow industry sit on their butt and look out the window, on the taxpayers time, and judge what something costs. Heres a newsflash for you, if picking the car up and moving it was all that was associated with the impound it would cost less. City councilmenmbers make how much? I mean how much are they getting paid to make their assessment from their office widow?

  4. I know y’all were waiting to hear what I think… Here it is.

    I’ve been on the wrong end of the tow truck — either my vehicle or a friend’s — three or four times in San Marcos. Each time — without one exception — the tow truck driver from either Southwest Towing or Saucedo’s was a complete, absolute jerk. Not only was he a jerk but he was going out of his way to let everyone know he was going to be a jerk and there was nothing you could do about it.

    That bullshit right there fuels the outrage in San Marcos over the towing way beyond what it has to be.

    If wrecker services want to be paid like professionals, they need to act like professionals. Until that time, I say lower their fees or at least leave them alone.

    I have no problem with businesses contracting with wrecker services to maintain their private property for the use of their customers. But when places go out of control like the Nelson Center has, the public can keep them in check by calling on the businesses there to prevail on their landlord to lighten upon the g-d towing. Just because they have the right, doesn’t mean they have to exercise it to the nth degree.

    If people made it bad for business, they would get the message.

  5. I believe our City Councilmen make $500/month. Probably far less than you suspected.

    The tow companies in this town are out of control. Slow response to actual calls (too busy sitting in the Jack in the Box parking lot, I guess) rude, unprofessional drivers (as indicated above) and predatory towing practices have them close to the top of the [poop] list of San Marcos residents and visitors alike.

    So don’t hold your breath waiting for an outpouring of public support when they ask Council for a 66% (!!!!!!) fee increase. It doesn’t take an expert in the tow business to know that type of increase is unjustifiable…..just someone with a brain.

  6. Actually, we’ve waited HOURS for a tow in town. I guess you gotta break down at Subway, to get any attention.

    Eff ’em.

  7. I suspect that if the tow companies are not meeting their margins at the current price point they would no longer be providing the service. Since they have not dropped out of the market, I’m guessing they are making sufficient profit at the current pricing.

  8. After very nearly being run off the road by a Saucedo truck last year, I called their office to complain, and was greeted by a snarky incompetant who could not have cared less. I asked what entity oversees tow companies, and the lovely on the other end yelled “nobody does, we do what we want”, and hung up. So much for good customer relations…..

  9. The police department has someone who specializes in wreckers and enforcing city ordinances that govern them. I’ve called them a few times, and usually there’s nothing that can be done because being rude and unprofessional and running a business like an a-hole isn’t illegal, but I’ve heard of them issuing 30+ tickets when the wrecker companies do violate the law. Call them, that’s what we pay taxes for! I’ve also been referred to a state agency, but I can’t remember which one.

  10. It would be more interesting to figure out how we could reintroduce the free market into this equation. When I see an arrogant TxState student park at Nelson and stroll away there isn’t a fine too high for me. I myself would have a hard time ignoring the 57 signs posted around the property promising you’ll get towed if you step off the lot.

  11. While at Subway one day I saw a couple of students park and walk away around the corner. I called them back and told them about the risk of parking thee. They moved. While I was inside eating the toll truck driver drove up to take another car. After he “hooked” it and proceded to drive away he made it a point to stop , honk his horn to get my attention, flip me off and laugh as if to say “Ha, Ha, I got one !” Like Tim says, Eff em !!

  12. It is a situation that brings out the absolute worst in people. Having spent a few years in the west campus of UT area I have seen some good fights over it. Not to excuse the tow truck drivers but they have been conditioned into that behavior. I can’ t think of a place where people are less likely to accept the consequences of their own actions.

    If downtown spots were metered students would not be as free to poach them and that would free up spots for us common folks. Also, does anyone know if there is a limit on the number of towing companies allowed?

  13. My new towing company will be called Sad Angels Discount Towing. All my drivers will be 50+ year old nuns (trained in karate, just in case) and they’ll be be trained to actually weep with regret and apologize profusely as they haul off your car.

  14. If you don’t like Nelson shopping centers’ attitude towards towing, DON”T SPEND YOUR MONEY THERE. Tell the merchants located there that they are losing your business because of the towing situation.

    I don’t shop there because of the Nelson Shopping Centers stance. Well not entirely, I do go to the sandwich shop once or twice a year cause sometimes my convictions get trumped by a good sandwich.

    I do have one question, where are all the folks that regularly preach personal resposibility (can’t you read a sign?)or who gripe about “goverment over reach”? Since they are not here allow me, “DE-REGULATE! DE-REGULATE!”.

  15. My vehicle has never been towed from any parking lot.

    There was a bill before the legislature a session or so back that would have required the property owner to sign off on each individual tow from their property. The towing companies got it killed. They want to be able to control the parking even more than the owners because they make outrageous fees from the system as it now exists.

    Property owners have a right to control who parks on their property. The predatory tow companies have found a way to work the system to maximize their profits at the expense of unwary consumers.

    The suggestion to let merchants know that you are not trading with them because of the predatory towing practices is a good one. But, go a step further, pick up the phone and demand that the legislature require property owners or their property managers to sign off on any vehicles towed from their property on an individual basis. Property owners should also be held legally responsible for the illegal acts of their agent towing companies.

    That will put a stop to the predatory towing.

    Tow companies and vehicle storage facilities are regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. They investigate complaints of improper towing and they can levy fines against towers who are in violation of the law.

    Make your complaint and if the Department finds it valid do not let that be the end of it. Follow up with the investigator and the Department attorney who prosecutes the case and ask for a severe fine at the hearing before the administrative law judge. Then if the towing company appeals to the full Commission you should attend the meeting and voice your objection to any reduction of the fine or penalty.

    If you have been towed improperly you have recourse.

  16. Brad,

    It would be interesting to find out if there is any connection to the tow companies asking for higher rates due to any increase in the pedestrian/bike friendly traffic downtown and/or the anticipated TXST-SMTX shared parking (agreement) garage under construction near Nelson Center…Maybe the tow companies are forecasting a significant drop in their business as downtown undergoes redevelopment (saying goodbye to the significant number of County employees, as an example) and we see more public/private shared parking agreements as well as businesses and patrons that are better conditioned to a walking, biking lifestyle?

  17. What a waste of words. The solutions for this situation are simple: Don’t park illegally on another person’s property. It is, after all, trespassing. And stay out of the city’s posted or otherwise designated no parking zones. End of problem.

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