Tow Trucks Fight City Hall
Proposal requires companies to file forms proving car owner wouldn't pay fee to avoid tow away.
The Common Council appears set to approve a controversial proposal by the Department of Public Works (DPW) to require tow truck operators on private property to file “drop fee waivers” with the city, which are forms showing the owner of the car being towed paid (or didn’t pay) a fee so the car is not towed away. The move is a precursor to DPW creating “report cards” for tow truck operators that include the number of tows requested, tows performed, submitted dropped waiver forms and complaints.
The city licenses tow truck operators operating on both city streets and private property. City code requires tow truck operators to allow those about to be towed from both private and public property to pay a $50 fee to “drop” the vehicle if the owner spots their vehicle being prepared to be towed before it is “fully hooked up.”
The drop process between tow truck operators and vehicle owners can become heated and is a common citizen complaint heard at license renewal hearings for tow truck operators. “We are aware of many complaints over time in which we have been informed that private towing companies in fact do not drop vehicles when they are legally required to do so,” said DPW parking services manager Thomas Woznick when the proposal was first heard in early June.
DPW’s proposal would require the operator to submit a standardized form to the department every time a drop incident takes place. Drivers that are present for their vehicle being towed could sign that they paid the fee and received their vehicle back, or check a box that states they did not wish to pay to receive their vehicle back.
The drop fee was created in 2015 over the objections of the tow truck industry. “They come out, and now I gotta give them their car for $50?” asked Action Towing operator Muhammad Abdus-Salaam in testimony before the council that year. “If I can’t make enough money doing it, it’s not worth it for me to do it.” Action Towing still has an active city license.
“I think it really clears up what we saw last year,” said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis. Abyss Towing lost its license in 2018 after someone that was towed recorded an Abyss employee refusing to offer the drop fee provision.
The council’s Public Safety & Health Committee unanimously approved DPW’s proposal for the second time Thursday morning. It was referred back to committee by the full council on June 18th after the council couldn’t agree on amendments regarding liability waivers and other changes to the form.
Michael Tarantino of Always Towing and attorney Tiara Oates from Maistelman & Associates said the existing code requires private operators to maintain the forms themselves and makes them available to the Milwaukee Police Department upon request. “DPW is not a neutral party in the matter,” said Tarantino Thursday morning. “DPW is not licensing, they should not be involved in private industry.” Tarantino said submitting the forms would give DPW competitive data that it could use to figure out where to tow vehicles. He characterized DPW, which earns some revenue when it hires private contractors to tow away cars — as a competitor.
Woznick said the companies today are only required to maintain the waiver forms for situations where the driver is present and declines to pay the fee. “Very few, if any, get declined” said the city’s parking czar. The proposal, said Woznick, is intended to improve the quality of tow operators and introduce consistency.
“Give it a year. If there is a problem, come back to us,” said committee chair Alderman Robert Donovan. “You raise an interesting point, but I don’t see a problem with that.” Donovan in early June asked Tarantino and Oates to submit their objections in writing, but no objections appear in the council’s file.
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Related Legislation: File 181462