Towing Companies Lobby For Fee Increase
The city ordinance allows tow truck operators to charge $65 to tow a vehicle illegally parked on private property. City Council unanimously agreed on first reading to increase the fee to $125, but warning signage is a problem in some areas.
About 30 members of the local towing community lobbied City Council Tuesday night to increase the illegal parking tow fee because their operations costs have skyrocketed since the last time the fee was increased nine years ago.
Council agreed on the first reading 7-0 to support the ordinance changes, which includes increasing the fee from $65 to $125. The changes would also increase the penalty the city could issue from $1,000 to $1,500 for violating the ordinance, but no citation has been filed in the past 12 months, and allow for a $50 a day storage fee past the first day.
But some Council members said the warning signs need to be better located, especially in Eagle Village where it remains one of the top three locations for towing of illegally parked vehicles. For additional details, read this story.
Chris Williams, who represents two local McDonald's locations including the one near University of Mary Washington, said the current $65 fee is not a deterrent.
"We don’t have a lot of parking at either one of our locations and many students use us as their personal parking lot and they are repeat offenders," she said.
Chris Shanks, of Shanks Towing, said the cost of gas, insurance and cell phones have increased dramatically. "All of those things have gone up about 300 percent, but what hasn’t gone up is the rate we are charging," he said. Shanks said 20 percent of his business comes from in the city. More than 85 percent of the 1,828 towings of illegally parked vehicles in Fredericksburg were done by Shanks and Dominion tow companies, which share a location at 1313 Alum Springs Dr. He said his company needs to tow four cars at the $65 fee to break even.
"The fifth car we make about $4.80," he said. "We do this to provide this service because our customers have been longtime customers. We've been doing it since 1995."
Peter Sullivan, owner of Sullivan's Towing, also said operational costs have "gone through the roof."
Councilman Matt Kelly said there have been complaints in the past about vehicles getting towed during the Christmas parade.
Michael Shanks, of Shanks Towing, said he made it a point to stop towing vehicles during the Christmas Parade, even though he gets about 100 phone calls during the parade to remove cars.
"We do care about the city and we try our best to keep things fair," he said.
Rev. Hashmel Turner was the only person who cautioned City Council to be careful about increasing this fee and penalty because there are a lot of fixed-income and poor residents in the city.
"Yes Mr. Kelly, the city has a parking problem," Turner said. "Towing companies seem to be doing real well. Look at the immaculate equipment. You would think they are doing very well in the profit margin, but we have people unemployed and people living on fixed incomes and to have to pay $65 for vehicle tows? $65 is a lot; $125 is an astronomical amount."
Fredericksburg Police Officer Jamie Walker, who is chairman of the Towing and Recovery Advisory Board, said the storage lot increase to $50 is necessary because the tow companies have to maintain the car lots and make them secure. "They are taking on the responsibility of protecting these vehicles," he said, adding that Stafford and Spotsylvania have $55 storage fees per day.
Walker also said that the towing companies have improved relations with the public, proven by the low number of disturbances (17) this past year out of the 1,828 tows. Most of the 17 calls were for irate residents who had their vehicles towed, but Walker said he is unaware of any violent episodes.
"That is less than one percent complaint rate and that is way done from what we were seeing seven to eight years ago," Walker said.
Matt Benka, a Richmond lobbyist who helped create the state towing board and negotiated the state code change to increase the fee from $85 to $125, said even if the city increases the fee it will still be among the lowest in the state.
"I do agree that the rate should be a deterrent and second, while I certainly appreciate Mr. Turner's comments, I will say I think you can avoid it by just not parking illegally," said Vice Mayor Brad Ellis said.
Councilmen Kelly and Fred Howe said Eagle Village lacks the proper signage that the ordinance requires—especially in Eagle Village. The ordinance requires that the signs be:
- 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall
- contain a pictorial symbol of a tow truck; state, in lettering at least one inch in height: "PRIVATE PARKING" or "CUSTOMER PARKING ONLY" "[NAME OF BUSINESS OR OWNER]' "TOWING ENFORCED". If applicable, the sign shall state "TOWING ENFORCED 24 HOURS".
- contain the name of the tow truck service and its telephone number, where the owner of the vehicle may call for information concerning its retrieval
- printed with red and white lettering on a reflective background