Jilted tow truck companies say Everett will be a wreck without them

EVERETT — Most tow truck drivers who haul away wrecked or abandoned cars for the Everett Police Department have stopped taking calls to protest the city’s plan to cut a deal with a single tow operator.

Ron Hansen, owner of Hansen’s Towing, and others predict long delays in clearing accidents and broken-down vehicles from city streets.

“We’re trying to put all of the pressure we can on the city so that they bring this back to the table,” said Hansen, whose company is one of five protesting the city’s decision.

City officials say they’re not concerned.

On average six cars and trucks a day — more than 2,000 a year — get hauled away at the request of the police department.

City officials are confident that Inter-County Towing — the lone vendor remaining on the police department’s list — will be able to handle all of those calls.

The tow operators who pick up cars and trucks on a rotation basis started their mini-revolt this week.

The Everett City Council on Wednesday voted 6-1 to open negotiations on a three-year deal with Inter-County Towing.

The city decided to deal with a single company after car theft victims and people involved in accidents complained of being slapped with exorbitant towing bills.

When City Council President Drew Nielsen’s car was stolen in Everett, he saved money because the thief abandoned it in Seattle.

Had his car been dumped in Everett, Nielsen’s bill would likely have been much higher than the $180 he paid to get it back, he said. Nielsen said he was surprised to learn that towing rates differ so much from city to city.

That’s because Seattle — along with many other cities in the state — caps how much money companies can charge for public towing jobs.

In Everett, towing companies set their own rates.

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said people who get towed often have no choice of the company that’s used because they are in the hospital or in jail. So the towing operators wield what she called monopoly power and can charge exceedingly high rates.

A single towing contractor can reduce costs and pass the savings on to consumers, thanks to economies of scale that come with the steady work a city contract would give them, she said.

Hansen said that he and other operators probably did charge too much in the past. But he said that the city should have told them about complaints or warned them about prices.

And Hansen and the other tow operators say that they lose money on some tow jobs because they are required to pick up and hold on to some junk vehicles. Those tows end up costing the companies more money than they recover by selling the vehicles at auction or to a scrap dealer.

Hansen said his company towed four motor homes recently. He said he pegged the cost of towing — factoring in labor, gas and equipment costs — at $3,200. He recouped about $700 by selling the vehicles for scrap metal.

Everett Deputy Police Chief Greg Lineberry said he has a lot of respect for tow operators, saying their job is thankless and they get called at all hours of the night and during holidays and bad weather. But he said the city’s obligation is to get the best deal possible for residents.

“Ultimately our obligation is to the citizens that we serve,” Lineberry said.

The city put the contract out to bid, and Inter-County Towing gave the lowest bid. Now the city needs to finalize negotiations with Inter-County Towing.

Skip’s Towing and American Towing predict the city’s decision to give an exclusive contract to one company will put them out of business.

Mike Marthaller, owner of American Towing, said the contract is particularly unfair to small tow operators, whose profit margins are being squeezed by $5-a-gallon diesel costs.

He recalls spending a Christmas morning in the early 1990s at the site of a fatal car accident. It’s that kind of dedication that should be considered, he said.

“You can’t just dump the whole lot of us and leave us out to dry,” he said.

Hansen claims Inter-County Towing lacks the equipment and manpower to handle the job. And he said he won’t help the city out if Inter-County isn’t able fulfill its contract.

Phil Yang, general manager with Inter-County Towing, said he thinks those towing operators are acting “childish.”

“I just think they’re sore losers,” he said. “The other companies had a chance to bid.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

To see how the different bids stack up, go to www.heraldnet.com.

Everett is comparing bids from three local tow companies for the city’s contract. The bids are evaluated in four scenarios against rates charged by the Washington State Patrol’s tow contractors.

The three companies are Hansen’s Towing, Inter-County Towing and Skip’s Towing, which all have offices and impound yards in Everett.

1. Stolen car is found and impounded 16 hours before owner arrives during business hours to get it back.

Bid fee: Hansen’s, $154; Inter-County, $79; Skip’s, $193. WSP: $154.

2. Stolen car is found and impounded 48 hours before owner arrives during business hours to get it back.

Bid fee: Hansen’s, $189; Inter-County, $103.50; Skip’s, $232. WSP: $232.

3. Stolen car is found and impounded for 72 hours. Owner arrives after hours to get it back.

Bid fee: Hansen’s, $283.50; Inter-County, $167; Skip’s, $346. WSP: $348.

4. Car is towed and held 24 hours after collision in which driver is hospitalized. Owner arrives after hours to get car back.

Bid fee: Hansen’s, $213.50; Inter-County, $118; Skip’s, $268. WSP: $193.

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