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Friday, August 10, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council boots big booting fees

City Council approved a measure Thursday to reduce the amount that drivers can be charged to have boots removed from their illegally parked cars.

Council voted in favor of an ordinance that will bar booting companies from charging more than $50 to get a dreaded boot removed from a car. Currently, getting a boot removed can cost as much as $150. People have complained about booting companies camping out near lots where people are likely to briefly park illegally, even if it’s just to drop their kid off at school across the street.

Because the ordinance only passed by one vote, however, it was only approved on first reading. That means Council will have to vote to approve it twice more before it can take effect.

A number of private parking enforcement companies objected to the change, saying that lowering the maximum cost would threaten their business and increase the incentive for business owners to simply have cars towed, rather than booted.

Anthony Martinez of Republic Parking Enforcement said that if booting became significantly cheaper than towing, he would likely tow vehicles instead.

Lowering the maximum fine would not only hurt his business, said Martinez, but the many businesses that hire his company to keep their parking spaces available for customers. When their spots are taken by non-customers, they lose business.

“How much money do they lose per day? They need a company like us to take care of them,” said Martinez.

The maximum booting fee in Dallas is $100, while in San Antonio and Houston it is $35 and $25, respectively.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo expressed concern about the speed with which people’s cars get booted. She’s heard accounts of cars getting booted only minutes after parking.

Austin Police Department officials replied that a car is vulnerable the minute it is parked.

“I understand the need and desire for businesses to have this option available to them,” said Tovo. “I also believe that we need more protections for our consumers, and I think this ordinance strikes that balance.”

Tovo later said that a $50 fine was a “pretty big disincentive” not to park illegally.

Council Member Alison Alter said she wasn’t comfortable making a decision on the policy yet.

“I think $150 is too high; I just don’t know if $50 is too low,” she said. “I don’t have enough information.”

The maximum tow fee in Austin is $150, but after additional fees are levied a person typically pays closer to $200 to recover their car. And that’s not accounting for whatever they may have lost in time and money to get to the site where their car was dropped off.

Council Member Greg Casar expressed interest in the theory that reducing the booting fee might lead to more towings, but he suggested that the city could explore reducing the towing fee if that proves to be the case.

Casar also said that if people arrive at the scene while a boot is being put on their car, they should be able to get out of the situation without paying. He offered an amendment specifying that a person cannot be charged for boot removal unless the boot has been installed and the booting company has put its sticker on the windshield documenting the offense. Council unanimously adopted the amendment.

Council Member Ora Houston offered an amendment to make the maximum fee $100. When she initially made the motion, she thought that the proposed ordinance would set the fee at $150 and that her amendment would lower it. But after she was informed that the ordinance actually set the fee at $50, she stuck with her $100 proposal as striking the best balance between the interests of the booters and the booted.

Houston’s amendment failed, only winning the support of Alter and Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Ellen Troxclair.

Six Council members voted to set the maximum fee at $50: Casar, Tovo, Flannigan, Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen. Voting no were Houston, Troxclair and Council Member Leslie Pool, while Alter and Council Member Pio Renteria abstained.

Photo by Stromcarlson at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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