Stan Bradley, owner of Stan's Mt. View Towing on Delridge Way, talks about his concerns with the City of Seattle's plan to cap involuntary towing and storage fees when vehicles are hauled away from private property.
Seattle’s plan to cap towing fees irks the industry, locally and statewide
In late July Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Nick Licata announced plans to cap involuntary towing fees and storage rates starting in 2013, and the idea has not been well received by West Seattle towing companies or their state lobbying body, the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington (TRAW).
The issue broke into the limelight last year when a Seattle man was charged just under $800 by Citywide Towing to retrieve his truck after it was hauled away from a Capitol Hill apartment. Since then, Seattle and state politicians have stated their intent to do something about “predatory” fees when it comes to involuntary tows from private property in Washington. Currently, there is no state law limiting how much a company can charge.
The plan would cap impound fees at $156.75 and storage rates would top out at $15.50 for the first 12 hours. With tax, the total ding would ring in at $188.61 as long as the vehicle is retrieved in that 12 hour window.
“This proposal protects Seattle visitors and residents from predatory towing fee policies,” McGinn said in a statement. “After performing extensive outreach to all stakeholders, we believe it is fair to all parties, including towing operators.”
In response, TRAW President Dan Johnson wrote, "We are disappointed with the proposal released today to fix prices for towing services in Seattle. This was done without any third party study of the actual costs of operating a towing business and we believe it is contrary to State law … We will be evaluating all our options, legal and otherwise, to determine how we will respond."
“It sucks,” Stan Bradley with Stan’s Mt. View Towing on Delridge Way S.W. said more succinctly.
“The thing is they are lowballing the rates.” Bradley said, adding both the King County Sheriff's Office and Washington State Patrol set rates when companies tow for them, and the City’s proposed caps are lower. Bradley, who purchased Mt. View from his father in 1978 and was the manager for 17 years before that, said he does not have a contract to tow for Seattle Police.
Different law enforcement agencies have differing rates, and Katherine Schubert-Knapp with Seattle’s Dept. of Finance said the proposed cap “essentially charges 150 percent of the base rates of (Seattle) police-ordered tows for private property vehicle impounds.” They based the percentage off the system used in Portland, Ore, she said, which also has a hard cap.
In comparison to the proposed cap for impound and storage (with tax) of $188.61, GT Towing employees on Harbor Ave. S.W. said their current rate is around $220, while Bradley said Mt. View comes in around $250. They both said those rates are fair, and required to cover the hidden costs of running a towing operation, including high insurance rates.
“Citywide -- I don’t know what they are doing,” Bradley said in reference to their seemingly sky-high rates.
“I don’t think what the mayor is trying to do is legal,” Bradley concluded. “On a private business, how do they set the rates?”
In response to TRAW’s contention that Seattle’s proposal “is contrary to State Law,” McGinn spokesperson Aaron Pickus said, “We are confident that our proposal has no conflicts with state law.”
As for TRAW’s complaint that Seattle’s plan was drafted “without any third party study of the actual costs of operating a towing business …,” Schubert-Knapp said the city reached out to TRAW repeatedly for “quantitative information from the towing industry … to no avail.”
As a result of that lack of communication, Schubert-Knapp said the city will reevaluate their caps after the first 18 months to determine “whether the rate cap is protecting consumers while being fair to the industry.”
TRAW officials said they did not wish to comment beyond their published statement at this time, as they are working on a “more inclusive response.”
Seattle joins cities including Minneapolis, Portland and Indianapolis in capping private towing fees, according to a city press release. In addition to the cap, the plan will require “background checks for truck operators … personnel who are available to the public “24x7” to release an impounded vehicle, posting appropriate signage regarding fees and redemption procedures, and compliant investigation procedures.”
Licensing fees from towing companies under the new system will pay for a “new chief towing inspector, and an assistant, to enforce all the new rules,” Keith Seinfeld with KPLU wrote.