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getting towed

APD makes case for increased tow fee

Thursday, May 16, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin Police Department says the city tow rate is due for an update. According to the department’s calculations, the current fee has fallen behind market rates and should be adjusted as soon as possible.

While the city’s police tow rate has remained fixed at $150 since 2006, the Austin metropolitan area average tow rate has risen to $195 to keep pace with living costs. APD will be asking City Council to raise the fee for tows initiated by police (non-consent, non-private property tows) to match the metropolitan average sometime next month.

APD is only requesting a fee increase for non-consent tows (those not initiated by the vehicle owner or operator) related to incident management, such as clearing a car parked in the public right of way. The department claims neutrality on the question of a fee increase for non-consent tows taking place on private property.

Commander Eric Miesse of APD told the Urban Transportation Commission on Tuesday evening that police-initiated tows must “at minimum get back to market rates” in order for the city to recuperate the revenue it needs and keep towing businesses from leaving for other areas.

Round Rock has the lowest non-consent tow rate in the metropolitan area at $130 while Travis County has the highest rate at $275. Hays County and Kyle also have much higher tow fees than Austin, both set at $250.

Because the city receives a 20 percent reimbursement (currently $30) to its general fund in cases of police impounds, Miesse said increasing the fee would also benefit the city budget as well as helping to retain tow workers in the city.

A non-consent tow rate adjustment was last proposed to Council in 2015 but no action was taken.

Police department staff told UTC that average hourly wages in the city since 2006 have tracked with the proposed rate increase so that the average resident would not be financially burdened by the higher cost.

Calculating affordability by rate of increase, however, assumes the fees were fairly set in the past, said Commissioner Mario Champion.

Commissioner Samuel Franco worried that endorsing the requested rate increase may also result in an increase to non-consent private property tow fees, which could have a disproportionately negative impact on renters.

Miesse clarified that APD has no control over non-consent private property tow fees, noting that he invited towing businesses to the meeting to speak about that fee on their own behalf.

Tasha Mora, co-owner of A&A Wrecker and Recovery, said the city ordinance does not distinguish between police-initiated and private property non-consent tows. “A non-consent tow is a non-consent tow,” Mora said.

Further, as a provider of non-consent private property tows, Mora said the cost of living and operations are the same for both kinds of tows, but only those providing police-initiated tows would see a benefit from the requested fee increase.

Local towing industry worker David Smith urged the commission either to support raising both kinds of non-consent fees at once or to submit the issue to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to dictate the amount.

“They’re the ones that govern the pricing for private property impounding at the state level,” Smith said. “Either don’t decouple the rates,” Smith suggested, or “let TDLR do its job that it does in so many other municipalities in the state of Texas and let them govern the price and how we do our towing as a private property impounding company.”

UTC passed a recommendation that Council approve the non-consent police-initiated tow rate increase with the added stipulation that APD remains neutral on non-consent private property tows.

Photo by Jeff Kramer, from Flickr, made available by a Creative Commons License.

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