Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due: Mayor Greg Ballard and Council President Ryan Vaughn Propose Ordinance to End Predatory Towing

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard
About 1 1/2 years ago, I began discussing predatory towing in this city.  Eventually others picked up the topic, including Fox59, WTHR and WRTV.  All did excellent investigations on a problem that was growing increasingly worse.  Unfortunately the only state law on the subject - that vehicles must be tagged for 24 hours before they are considered "abandoned" and can be towed (with a couple exceptions), was routinely ignored.  We needed local ordinances to clarify the state law and provide more protection for vehicle owners.  Into that void Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Council President Ryan Vaughn stepped and made what appears to be a very sensible proposal.  Here are the highlights according to Fox59:
  • Cap towing fees for passenger vehicles at $150.
  • Cap storage fees at $30 per day
  • Require detailed receipts listing all charges
  • Prohibit payments from tow operators to property owners/lot managers per vehicle towed
  • Signs listing lot hours and vehicle redemption information must be approved by the City
  • Vehicles must be towed directly to secure storage lot inside Marion County, unless within 10 miles of pick up
  • Motorists must be able to claim their vehicle 24 hours per day, seven days a week
  • Towing operators and their storage lots must accept cash or credit cards
    Council President
    Ryan Vaughn
  • Representative of property owner, not affiliated with the tow company, must sign tow order for each vehicle prior to towing
These are good ideas.  There might be a problem with  the 24/7 pickup for small towing companies that aren't able to staff 24/7.  I've also heard that the credit card option is a problem as well.  People often  challenge credit card charges for towing companies doing non-consensual tows.

Instead of just the $150 cap on non-consensual tows, I would put in a provision in saying that towing companies cannot charge more for a nonconsensual tow than they charge for a consensual tow.  The ordinance also needs to address charges for mileage and other add-ons that inflate towing bill.   This proposed ordinance though appears to be an excellent start.

For some time, I've criticized Mayor Ballard and Councilor Vaughn for putting the wishes of establishment insiders ahead of what is best for the people.  I wanted them to take a more populist approach to their positions, proposing measures that put the people first ahead of those special interests.  In a county that's only 45% Republican, that was the only way the Mayor could have been re-elected.  Now 3 1/2 years into the Mayor's term, he appears to finally have gotten the message.  While it is too little and too late to save his re-election, both the Mayor and Councilor Vaughn deserve credit for doing the right thing.


varangianguard said...

Since the towing companies seem to neglect to check party affiliation prior to waltzing off with a lot full of cars, I imagine this deserves less credit than you are giving.

The Mayor's "base" has probably suffered this predation disproportionately due to the type of events I've seen bandied about in the media and blogosphere.

MAC has likely fielded quite a few calls about this.

Cato said...

" * Cap towing fees for passenger vehicles at $150.

* Cap storage fees at $30 per day"

Those fees are outrageous and can bankrupt many families. Do you know how much money people in Indy have?

Only a nominal amount need be charged, if any.

The only reason a corporation needs to tow a car is to free up that space for commerce. If commerce is not impacted, then there is no need to tow the vehicle without providing a notice to remove. If commerce is again flowing, the corporation is pleased, and that should be the end of the matter.

At $150, plus $30, the scum towing companies have a great profit motive in towing vehicles, and corporations continue to enjoy their kickbacks from the towing companies. If fees were capped at $25 for a tow, plus no storage for a week, then cars would only be towed for actual commercial need and not for profit.

P.S. Remember Jack Cottey's customer-service interaction at Delaware and South?


M Theory said...

Paul? I was told you never said anything nice.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, You had written earlier about an ordinance that had been proposed that seemed intended to give a monopoly to certain tow truck operators. How does this ordinance relate to it? I agree that the daily storage fee allowed under the ordinance is rather high. If people are unable to pay the towing and storage fee and their car isn't worth a whole lot, sometimes they just wind up losing their car altogether and the tow truck operator can auction it off and keep the proceeds.

Paul K. Ogden said...


The monopoly ordinance refers to a different type of towing. Those are tows ordered by the city officials...for example, a wrecked care that's inoperable or a car that is left blocking a road or a car with too many parking tickets.

This second type of ordinance is aimed at towing from private property, chiefly commercial lots. Usually it's after business hours, often a large lot that is vacant during business hours. Those business owners could charge for parking after hours (think $10 in Broad Ripple for example). What the towing companies have done is jack up towing fees for these involuntary tows and kick back money to the lot owners. (Anywhere from $25 or $50). The property owners would rather have $50 a car instead of $10.

I think you have a point about the storage fees. I don't like those either. I mean how much does it really cost to "store" the vehicle on these lots?