The tow-truck industry is out of control. Will the city intervene?
“We try and get them a refund, we’re not always successful,” Haver says. “For people who have been persuaded to pay in cash, there’s little more I can do than get the owner on the phone and they promise not to do it again.”
To address some of the problems before they occur, City Council passed a law this spring mandating that a car be ticketed by a law-enforcement agency before an operator can tow it off private property, eliminating “he said she said” disputes like the Schwartz’s about whether a car was legally parked or not. Mayor Nutter has not yet signed the bill into law, although it is likely to happen in September, representatives from the Mayor’s Office say.
Operators laugh at the idea that the police could be called to ticket every illegally parked car in the city, and say that isn’t fair to car owners anyway. “You’re double-dipping,” says Lew Blum, who owns one of the highest-volume private towing companies in the city. “They already pay for getting towed. Why put a ticket on it?”
He suggests towers take a picture instead, so they can prove the car was parked legally in case of a dispute, but he says City Council won’t return his phone calls and isn’t interested in his input on the new laws.
Blum is even more unhappy about Kenney’s suggestion to hand the towing industry over to the Philadelphia Parking Authority if the police and L&I can’t get the job done. “Ultimately, we want the PPA to take over supervision,” Kenney says. Under his idea, the PPA, which he describes as “the most relentless enforcement agency known to mankind,” would be in charge of truck inspections and issuing licenses to tow. After an accident, the police would call the PPA, who would call a towing company on the rotation list, who would take the damaged vehicle to a PPA lot.
“That would ensure that the $150 for the tow and $25 a day storage fee will be complied with,” Kenney says.
The Mayor’s Office hasn’t taken a position yet on Kenney’s suggestion. “The short of it is that we are reviewing the suggestion and are seeking to have a comprehensive answer to be put forth sometime in the fall,” says Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison.
The PPA is also coy about speaking too soon. “It’s kind of preliminary right now,” says Carl Ciglar, the PPA’s deputy executive director. “At this point, if the councilman and Council feel like it’s a good idea for us to do that, we’re certainly open to it.”
Blum calls bullshit. “The Parking Authority and City Council are in cahoots,” he says.
“We are so picked on,” Blum continues. “All of us private towers—we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, but this will put us out of business. And I am mad.”
Private operators aren’t happy about the other rules, either. Operators complain the rotational list is just a way to funnel work to drivers who have connections with City Hall.
“How you gonna take work from all the little guys and give it to a few politically connected guys?” asks Campbell.
Blum and other operators vaguely mention ideas to start a new towing association in order to wield more clout with City Council, but no firm plans are in place yet. Parente says he has tried to bring more companies into the Towers and Salvors Association, but found little interest.
With no organization to speak for them, other towers still say they feel left out of the decision-making process. “If you get pull in City Hall, you get work,” La Torre Sr. says. “They’ll kill the industry.”
But that’s only if those within the industry don’t kill each other first. ■
Private tow-truck drivers are fed up with an ever-changing web of inconsistently enforced city regulations. They’re angry about the constant specter of the Philadelphia Parking Authority threatening to elbow in on their business. And they’re pissed off that media always portrays them as the bad guys.
Dinner with Luke Palladino