Everett may cap towing rates

Aaron McGlinchy got his truck back a year after it was stolen, but it was returned with an unpleasant surprise.

A massive towing bill.

When police found his stripped 1985 GMC High Sierra on a stolen trailer on April 4, they couldn’t trace it back to him and it was towed to a private impound yard.

Thieves had swapped license plates with another truck and etched in new vehicle identification numbers.

After McGlinchy was discovered to be the owner, he was notified on April 19.

When he picked up his truck, he was charged $1,000 by the towing company for towing and storage.

Others in his position haven’t been so fortunate. Some people have had their cars auctioned off by towing companies, then sent to collections, leaving them owing hundreds of dollars in towing and storage bills.

The city doesn’t regulate what towing companies charge for hauling away and storing wrecked, abandoned and recovered stolen cars from public streets.

That is about to change.

“I’m not a big believer in government regulation,” Council President Brenda Stonecipher said. “I like the way free markets tend to work most of the time. But if ever there’s a call for government intervention, this is one.”

Everett wants to cap rates at or below the rates set by the Washington State Patrol. And the city is looking at awarding a contract to two companies to tow all of the cars picked up in the city.

Seattle, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Marysville and several other cities around the state already set rates for towing companies that want public contracts.

But the city’s plan to regulate towing fees has rubbed some of the city’s towing contractors the wrong way.

Three of the largest tow companies in Everett protested the proposal and hired an attorney to try to fight it.

Dick Peterson, owner of Dick’s Towing in Everett, said the city’s proposal caught him by surprise.

“We’d hoped they had the common courtesy to sit down and figure out a livable rate,” he said. “They should have had a meeting with us.”

Earlier this year, the Everett Police Department put together a comparison of rates of companies that contract with the city and the state patrol.

In a scenario that includes a weekend impound, after hours release and two days of storage, the police showed the city’s tow companies had a higher rate than the state patrol’s.

One company charged more than double the state patrol rate.

Peterson said the survey is flawed because it uses maximum rates filed with the state Department of Licensing – not what he actually charges.

Everett Deputy Police Chief Greg Lineberry said his department just wants to establish a standard rate for the city.

In many cases when cars are towed, owners can’t shop for the best price, he said.If drivers are incapacitated by accidents or jailed, they are essentially at the mercy of towing operators.

Eric Reynolds, owner of First Response Towing of Marysville, said a standard rate is fair.”The lack of regulation is breeding dishonesty in the industry,” he said.

Lax rules can result in “discriminatory billing,” he said. For example, an unscrupulous company might charge the owner of a new Mercedes Benz more than a person with a beat up old Honda.

While Dick’s is one of the largest tow operators in the city, Peterson did not bid on the contract. He said no single company has sufficient space to store vehicles recovered citywide.

Jim Zelmer, owner of Ron May Towing, another large Everett towing company, said the expense of disposing of junked cars, rising gas prices, and high insurance premiums requires him to charge a higher rate than the city wants.

Because the city has a higher percentage of abandoned vehicles, city jobs are often more costly than state patrol jobs, he said.”(The city has) no concept of the dollars that come out of our pockets to keep this city clean,” Zelmer said. “We are not the bad guy here – we’re the guy in the white hat rescuing your wife, child or yourself in the snow.”

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

The Everett Police Department gave a sampling of rates charged by towing companies to the City Council. The rates below are based on an impound, after-hours release and two days of storage time.






Ron May$460



Source: City of Everett, Washington Department of Licensing

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