Thursday, December 5, 2013

Putting The "Montreal Model" In Front Of Minneapolis Mayor Elect Betsy Hodges...

Wiki Commons image, blog post by John Hoff

Recently, Minneapolis Mayor Elect  Betsy Hodges sent out an email to numerous citizens of Minneapolis soliciting ideas and input about how to make our city better. I took the opportunity to put some ideas in front of Hodges about crime and revitalization issues in North Minneapolis and, of course...

The Montreal Model Of Non-Consensual Towing.

Click here for previous coverage about this topic. 

When there is a snow emergency in Montreal, Canada, and citizens park mistakenly or can't move fast enough to avoid the snowplows, their vehicles DO NOT end up at the impound lot. Instead...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Told You So FOUR YEARS AGO!!!! Cedar Towing In Minneapolis Caught Red Handed In Dirty Practices, Fined By City, Portion Of Towing Operations Suspended...

Photo, blog post by John Hoff

 Four years ago, this blog first reported on concerns about Cedar Towing that were raised at a meeting at a local mosque on the West Bank, click here. Cedar isn't some small, obscure, unscrupulous little operator but the largest towing company in Minneapolis. It is symbolic of the actual and potential abuses in "nonconsensual towing" all over the nation, which was the reason I started this blog. Cedar Towing is now inspiring me to make this blog more active, at least this moment, today.

The Mineapolis Star Tribune is reporting Cedar Towing will pay a $10,000 fine and see its license suspended for 30 days. Reportedly, the company collected over $100,000 in improper fees LAST YEAR ALONE. This article, click here, also outlines what the purported problems were. 

In the settlement, click here for actual settlement document, Cedar Towing doesn't admit it broke any rules. Under the "I didn't break any rules but I'm paying $10,000" settlement, Cedar Towing agrees to suspend its "nonconsensual" towing for 30 days. Cedar can still tow people who request tows. Fair enough, but any decent person should avoid calling this particular towing company after allegations by city officials of such flagrant abuses.

The company is also moving its business to 3527 Dight Avenue.

The Star Tribune reporter who wrote the most recent article, Matt McKinney, is unfortunately not the sharpest tool in the shed based on my own dealings with him. McKinney wrote the company was moving to 3527 Dight Avenue SOUTH. There is no such animal, city records show it's just "Dight Avenue" at that address.

The address in question is listed under a "master address" of 3534 Snelling Avenue, which is owned by one John C. Kemp, with Martin M. Kemp listed as the taxpayer. Martin's address is listed as 2231 Bronson Dr., Moundsview, Minn. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yes, Towing Utopia Dot Com Is Still Alive...

This blog entered a long period of inactivity because it just wasn't possible to put the time into it which the issue needed. Recently, I've become convinced that I must find a way to return to putting up content on this blog and drumming this issue but, well, it's a matter of how to pull that off.

Thinking. Thinking.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Open Letter To President Obama (Stopping Predatory Towing Is A Clever And Amazingly Cheap Policy Tweak) Photo

Dear President Obama,

I'm sure a gazillion editorial writers all have suggestions for you, and something like this blog post is likely to get lost in the shuffle keys in half-frozen Minnesota slush. But what you said today about George Washington at Valley Forge made me think, well, I have to at least TRY to make my country a little better....

I'm hoping this blog post might somehow get to one of your low-level administration officials, a congressional or senate aide, SOMEBODY who sees the sense in this assertion: Some "policy tweaks" can really help the people of the nation and its economy, but don't cost much money at all. Regulating predatory towing is one such policy tweak.

What Predatory Towing Costs The Nation

The loss of a vehicle--even temporary--keeps individuals from getting to work. It creates chaos in personal schedules, and then concentric rings of chaos which ripple into society. Somewhere, a nurse doesn't show up for work, and another nurse has to work overtime, stressed out, more prone to make mistakes. Somewhere a teacher doesn't make it to school and a substitute teacher--sincere, but less skilled and prepared--has to fill in for half of the day. The students suffer. And so forth.

(Geez, Mr. President, this really reminds me of the poem read at your inauguration, but in a negative way. Yes, "somewhere somebody patches a tire." YES, BECAUSE A TOW TRUCK DRIVER DRAGGED THE VEHICLE SEVERAL MILES WITH THE BRAKES ENGAGED, CLICK HERE. Oh, gee, turns out that particular tire problem can't be patched)

This chaos caused by the towing of vehicles might be something society could absorb, because parking rules must be enforced, and a lack of parking creates its own chaos. But here's the problem: there is overwhelming documentation that some towing companies--certainly not all--engage in abusive, predatory practices. And it has only gotten worse in the current tough economy. And, like you said...things will get worse before getting better.

The recovery rates for impounded vehicles are shocking. We're grabbing cars from poor people and selling the vehicles for scrap, or shipping the cars to Mexico for pennies on the dollar. People who have nowhere left to live but their car suddenly have nowhere left to live but under a bridge. All of this is because we don't place a high enough priority on clever, high-tech solutions. Why shouldn't Americans be notified by cell phone or Blackberry (I know you love your Blackberry, Mr. President) of an impending tow?

Why shouldn't Americans be told "move it or lose it" before having their car seized and held hostage? Or at least have regulation which requires--good grief, Mr. President--reasonably visible signage?

An Uprising Among Some Vehicle Owners

Sir, recently there have been instances of rebellion and protest around this issue. There has been violence as some vehicle owners--pushed to the absolute limit--fight back against tow truck operators.

It really doesn't have to be this way. States already have the ability to regulate towing operations in sensible ways, but many just don't. Worse, there is evidence the dirty money which comes from aggressive, predatory towing gets into city politics, as we see in places like Springfield, Massachusetts. This blog has been documenting the problem for months, in numerous states.

Some Clever Policy Tweaks Are Cheap

I'd like to compare what I'm suggesting to something which happened under the Clinton Administration. In a bipartisan effort, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed. It's a sensible law which allows restaurants and grocery stores to donate food to soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, etc. and be protected from liability as long as they make the donations with "normal care."

Just by casting a shield of protection from liability, this law has managed to shake loose all kinds of donations to hungry people, just like that! With the stroke of a pen. It's not only good politics, but very FRUGAL politics.

Towing regulation can happen in the same way. Just by making sure drivers aren't abused by towing operators, and don't lose their vehicles willy-nilly because of abuses, you can keep people participating in the economy and prevent many personal disasters.

Sure, when people voted for you, predatory towing was probably the last thing on their minds. But people are expecting you to be CLEVER, for your administration to pull some kind of amazing miracle from somewhere and help turn the economy around.

This suggestion small, but this will help.

Please, Mr. President, do something to help stop the economic damage and abuses to individual Americans caused by the well-documented problem of predatory towing.

P.S. If you like this idea, sir, I've got another clever policy proposal in regard to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which I call "Fortresses of Englightment."

Standard Post Addendum:

(Click here for list of various regulatory tactics. Click here for website of Compiled Logic, a company involved in solving these complex problems associated with "non-consent towing" issues)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thumbnail Summary Of Regulatory Tactics Directed At Predatory Towing Photo

This post is intended for the researcher or policy-maker seeking a road map or thumbnail summary of regulatory tactics used by cities, states and counties seeking to curtail predatory towing practices...

For simplicity, I will list the various tricks and provide a link with each example.

1.) Outlaw "patrol towing." The practice known as "patrol towing" takes place when the owner of a parking lot gives a towing company free reign to tow unauthorized vehicles, without the need to call about particular vehicles.

Unscrupulous, "bad apple" towing companies will engage in abusive behavior when given such free reign, even towing legally parked vehicles because abuses are usually difficult to prove. Some will actually station "spotters" in parked vehicles or trees to catch as many cars as possible. Because "patrol towing is so rife with abuse, some states such as California have outlawed it, click here.

2.) Outlaw or severely restrict "booting" of cars. Often, booting is more lucrative than towing vehicles. Ransoms can be demanded on the spot, but because each ransom requires a confrontation between booter and driver, violence will happen sooner or later. Cities such as Minneapolis have outlawed booting except in very small lots where tow trucks can't maneuver, click here for link.

3.) The "Let People Get Their Stuff" law, click here. This law allows people to recover items from their towed vehicles (medicine, children's photos, their wallets, for crying out loud) without having to pay to get the vehicle out of impound, for the sake of mercy and human decency.

I've actually had some difficulty nailing down whether this bill passed in Minnesota, because there was so much controversy with that particular transportation bill, and any reporting on this issue was lost in the shuffle. Even Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman was unable to answer my follow-ups about whether the bill he wrote about actually passed.

HOWEVER, a recent trip to the Minneapolis impound lot to recover my stolen van, and some questions I asked there, led me to the conclusion the law did indeed pass or, in the alternative, Minneapolis has altered its policies to "let people get their stuff." This is a great law and should be adopted nationally.

4.) Require towing companies to take checks and credit cards, not just cash. California, which has some of the most highly-developed anti-predatory towing laws in the nation, click here, is one place that outlaws "cash only."

5.) Require impound lots to be reasonable distances from the places where cars are towed. Hawaii, for example, requires this, click here. (Of course, somebody in Hawaii has found a loophole, and it's called "Sand Island.")

6.) Mandatory drop, or greatly reduced fees. If the driver gets to his/her vehicle before the tow truck leaves the lot, a greatly reduced towing fee is required, or even a "free drop." Once again, Hawaii requires this, click here, but this is a fairly common rule around the country. It prevents violence and it is reasonable that a "drop" should cost less than an impound.

7.) Regulating signage. Many traps are laid for the unwary because of unclear, confusing, missing or deliberately deceptive signage. Kansas City, Missouri has been forced to address the issue of bad signage, click here, but once again this is a very common form of towing regulation.

8.) Caps, caps, caps. Everything from the price of the tow, to the daily and HOURLY impound lot storage fee, to where tows can take place and how often, all these things can be capped and regulated. Portland has capped towing fees, click here.

9.) One-hour rule. In California, a vehicle must be illegally parked FOR AN HOUR before being towed, click here. (There are exceptions for vehicles presenting an immediate safety hazard)

10.) Outlaw kick-backs. Please note, this list is NOT in order of importance. Outlawing kickbacks is very important, and if the list were ranked, it might be at No. 1 or No. 2.

"Kickbacks" happen when the owner of a parking lot gets a cut from the various vehicles towed from that lot. Such incentives inevitably lead to abuses. Florida, for example, is a state which outlaws towing kickbacks, click here.

11.) A towing "commission" or "authority." Though I have only a limited amount of faith in this tactic, many jurisdictions have such entities, such as Falls Church, Virginia, click here. The problem with such commissions seems to be "political horse-trading" which takes place prior to their creation. In throwing a bone to powerful towing interests, these commissions are created as relatively toothless entities.

12.) Sting operations directed at predatory towing. Asheville, North Carolina may have saved its reputation as a worthwhile "destination city" by using this tactic, click here.

13.) "Humane and merciful" short towing. Some cities such as Montreal and Madison, Wisconsin deal with snow emergencies by towing non-compliant cars to places where parking is legal instead of impounding the cars, click here, (Montreal) and here (Madison). In Albany, New York, police were actually running plate numbers and BANGING ON THE DOORS OF HOMES to avoid towing citizens, click here.

Cars subjected to "humane and merciful" short tows are apparently still given a ticket and charged for the short tow, but the charges are still much less than being impounded.

14.) Tows must be documented. In California, before a car can be impounded it must be photographed to show how it was non-compliant, and (apparently) the condition of the car prior to being towed, click here.

15.) System transparency, jurisdictions sharing info, modern rather than archaic information systems.

It is essential for jurisdictions to share information with each other so cars can be located in the system, especially stolen cars. Police, insurance companies, owners and tow truck drivers all need to be able to track vehicles. (Police sometimes solve obtain clues to crimes this way, though this is something of an added bonus)

Increasingly, attempts are being made to link as many jurisdictions as possible and create a kind of national network. Here's a recent article in the much-respected "Police Chief Magazine," click here, which talks about those efforts. The author of the article, Ron Smith, works for a company called Compiled Logic of Houston, Texas which helps jurisdictions cost-effectively manage their towing information systems.

16.) Raising consciousness, fighting back against abuses. If you are subjected to predatory towing, don't be silent. Contact this blog through the comments function or by email ( Find the company which mistreated you online, and write a scathing review. File a complaint with your state attorney general, consumer affairs division. Write to your city, county and state authorities.

Rip Off Report Dot Com is a particularly good place to make the record. When somebody Googles the name of the towing company, the "rip off report" will come up, as well.

WRITE TO YOUR SENATOR OR CONGRESSMAN and reference this blog, and ask for renewed federal regulatory action to stop predatory towing but--and this is really important--require jurisdictions to share information and create a seamless national web of information to locate missing cars. Nationally, it is estimated 25 percent of impounded cars are not claimed. This is something we can't afford!

Use this blog to educate yourself about predatory towing patterns and solutions by going through these posts and reading up. I'm just one guy with a blog. I drive really crummy cars. There's only so much I can do, but because of small efforts like this, public consciousness about predatory towing is growing and it will surely have national consequences. Already, there have been protests and uprisings, click here. Political candidates have been elected partially because of these issues, click here.

This is a modern civil rights movement; your right to the freedom, property ownership and pursuit of happiness represented by your precious, beloved car. There is plenty of opportunity to play a role in this movement; even a small role represented by a few emails, photographs, or online comments.

We are Americans, and Americans love their cars. When somebody kidnaps your car and holds it ransom on flimsy pretenses, why, that's just un-American!

It's time for Americans to fight back against abusive and predatory towing.

Dallas Is Filling Its Impound Lots With Seized Cars Photo

The City of Dallas made good on its threat to enforce an "uninsured motorist ordinance," and has reportedly been seizing cars on a massive scale, according to this article from Channel 11 in Dallas, click here.

In the first nine days of 2009, Dallas police...

...reportedly towed 256 cars. This does not include vehicles towed from accident sites, so that would be mostly seizures. Drivers who are pulled over simply lose their cars if they don't have insurance. They rack up a fine, towing charges, and $20 a day for impound fees.

There are certainly much better incentives to make drivers buy insurance, incentives which don't hurt people so badly in a tough economy. Dallas is driving down the wrong road, and if Dallas thinks there won't be political "push back" from all those upset drivers--poor and uninsured, though they may be--then Dallas is collectively out of its mind.

It is sad and frustrating to see some cities making sensible progress, click here for an example, but then to see such brutal, regressive practices spring up in a major city like Dallas. You have to wonder "WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!" And why do citizens just knuckle under, like that, and swallow such abuses?

Directing Attention Toward Solutions, Not Just Gripes

My little saga with Towing Utopia began with the seizure of my van in Minneapolis during a snow emergency, click here, and my sense of violation and my certainty there is something fundamentally wrong with the system if vehicles are being seized because--good grief--SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN MINNESOTA, SURPRISE, SURPRISE.

My goal in 2009, as I stated in this blog post, click here, is to figure out how to give this website a greater impact. Having my van seized AGAIN--this time because it was stolen and recovered--and having to make a trip to the impound lot AGAIN made me think, "What am I doing wrong? What am I doing right? How can I do better?"

Therefore, I have decided every one of my blog posts--EVERY ONE OF THEM--will have two things at the end.

1.) A link to a post suggesting regulatory steps cities commonly undertake to stop predatory towing practices. I have not yet written this blog post, but I will.

In the meantime, some fairly common regulations include: limits on how far vehicles can be towed, regulation of parking lot signage, and prohibitions on "cash only" policies. Anything cities can do to make their systems transparent--to make it possible for all concerned parties to track vehicles on the internet, and have a record of the facts and fees--is particularly good.

Archaic "cash and carbon paper" systems have to go the way of the do-do bird, or citizens will inevitably be abused.

2.) A link to Compiled Logic, click here, a company in Houston, Texas that helps cities solve their towing problems with high tech solutions. This company works closely with reputable towing companies, cities, police departments, etc.

They're businesspeople, not bloggers, so I hope they won't mind unsolicited free publicity.

In my experience, Ron Smith of Compiled Logic is a pretty great guy, super friendly as a good salesman should be. So I don't think he'll mind.

I'll do this because Compiled Logic has some high tech solutions for more transparent, less abusive towing systems. In 2009, I want anybody who stumbles on this blog (while investigating these predatory towing issues) to instantly have an answer to this question:

"Where can my city go to get some help with this problem besides writing about it on a blog?"

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christian Science Monitor Calls Predatory Towing A Source Of National Conflict, Cites THIS BLOG!!!! Photo

It's official: predatory towing is causing "tension" and "conflict" on a national scale. So says the Christian Science Monitor, click here for the article, and this blog was cited in the story...

I was interviewed by the reporter for over an hour, and I can see a lot of my influence in what he wrote, but more so this blog's influence. In fact, I learned the reporter had spent HOURS reading numerous stories linked in these various posts...including my parody song, "Paint It Red."

The reporter, Patrik Jonsson (it's Swedish,he told me) starts the article in style, citing the situation in Orlando where Paul Gren's questionable practices have been used to fund a personal fleet of customized Harleys. (I'm convinced the reporter learned about Gren from this blog, and I made a point of mentioning Gren and his Harley Davidson fetish)

He next mentions Palm Desert, where drivers have been arrested for committing auto thefts by use of tow trucks.

THEN he starts talking about Asheville, North Carolina, where there was (good heavens) a STING OPERATION against predatory towing, something a lot more cities need to copy.

And the story sticks to Asheville for a long time, basically holding up Asheville as an example.

The moral, according to authorities in Asheville? So-called "destination cities" can't afford to become known as havens for predatory towing. Word gets around. Just ask the Cotton Bowl folks in Dallas, or the Crayfish Boil organizers in Alabama.

A Valuable Nugget Of Information Dropped About Asheville, NC

In talking to the reporter, I learned something interesting: though "tourism bureau" and "chamber of commerce" people were credited with raising the alarm, Jonnson said it was actually police officers who "spent one too many nights trying to keep children warm in the back of their squad cars, while their parents tried to recover their car." These Asheville police officers were actually the ones who first raised the alarm, behind the scenes, about predatory towing in their community.

Balanced--Toward Justice!

Since most readers will never get to the bottom of the article (trust me, I taught journalism) the article may very well be "balanced" by its use of an expert from the towing industry near the end, and a professor who wags his finger at bad city planning, but overall the article mostly comes off as a "wake up call" about an emerging national problem caused by poorly regulated towing companies engaging in shady practices.

One blog devoted to the towing industry tried--with feigned hopefulness--to characterize the article as "balanced." (Click here for that blog post) Yeah, it was balanced. It was balanced toward the cause of JUSTICE and LIBERTY, and not PREDATORY TOWING.

Not Just Data, Some Solutions

The article mentions Ron Smith of Compiled Logic, who I interviewed for a Minnesota Daily opinion column about predatory towing near the beginning of this new direction in my lifelong activism, click here.

Yes, Smith's company tracks data about non-consensual towing, but that's purely secondary to their goals. Compiled Logic makes its money by helping cities solve their towing problems without breaking city budgets, by use of high tech solutions. In fact, Smith seems to have either coined or played a big role in promulgating the terms "non-consensual towing" and "towing life cycle."

The article mentions how "a quarter of all towed cars are never claimed" due to "jurisdictional issues" and "lack of transparency in the system." Well, I'm confident the reporter got that number from Smith, though Smith pulls a lot of his data together from various police agencies. It's a shocking number. As a society, we can't afford to be this inefficient. People need their cars to participate in the economy.

I swear, I'm going to write an open letter to President Obama.

Dude, Donde Esta Mi Autocoche?

The reporter was interested in where all the cars end up, though that didn't end up in his article. We spent a lot of time talking about the tendency of cars to get scrapped, chopped down for parts or--and this was something the reporter found very interesting, though it didnt' end up in the article--end up in Mexico.

I told the reporter "large metal objects do not just disappear off the face of the earth. There's no evidence of time/space wormholes on the surface of our planet. That can't happen."

Towing Utopia Dot Com's Greatest Day...So Far!

This article represents the pinnacle of months of effort at consciousness-raising.

But there's a long way to go before Congress acts, or before states, cities and counties all start waking up to towing abuses. The problem of jurisdictions failing to share data about impounded vehicles--causing a quarter of all cars to be unclaimed--is a huge problem and a huge inefficiency in our struggling economy. It could have easily happened to me after my van was stolen last month, click here. Honestly, I think only the glitch in my starter system caused the van to be recovered a mere 7 blocks away.

So this blog has come a long way, baby. But there's a long road ahead.