Saturday, December 27, 2008

Springfield, Massachusetts Towing Scandal Threatens City Government

Image Contributed By "Way Cool 311 Jim"

I wouldn't want to close the greasy books on 2008 without one more post about the Springfield Towing Alliance, the subject of so much interesting ongoing scandal in Springfield, Massachusetts. I've blogged about this messy, almost-darkly-comic situation quite a bit already, click here, and also here.

But now things in Springfield have REALLY taken a serious turn...

The municipal government's functions are imperiled by spin-off from the scandal. How this came about is complicated and a bit hard to follow, but explained pretty well by two excellent articles in The Republican. Click here for the article by Dan Ring, and then click here for a subsequent article by Jack Flynn. (A reporter's name if I ever heard one)

This much I gather from the articles: Springfield has a $52 million dollar loan from the state. They're asking for additional time to pay back the loan, described as a "bail out." According to Flynn's article, the state "imposed a five-member Finance Control Board and stripped city officials of authority over municipal finances." OUCH!!!!!

The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, is willing to work with the city, but he's being opposed by two legislators. One of the legislators, Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, seems to be involved in legitimate political horse-trading, asking for stuff like requiring a residence requirement for new city employees. The really inexplicable opposition comes from a legislator named Benjamin Swan. He's apparently willing to let city functions come to a screeching halt because, oh gee, some report hasn't been released yet about the Towing Alliance scandal, and how well the city handled that matter.

Well, guess who owns Swan? The Springfield Towing Alliance. From the sound of things, they have clear title to Swan's soul. The president of STA, Robert L. Jones, has contributed money to Swan and Swan has rented property to Jones. And yet Swan has the nerve to say he wants the city to be "fair and objective" in the awarding of contracts.

Swan claims he is "waiting for the state Inspector General's office to complete a review" of the situation with the Towing Alliance, and their loss of the contract for, well, massive malfeasance. (Well, Swan didn't say that LAST part. He is keeping an open mind, it appears, even though the Towing Alliance lost in court, so what is there to review?)

Though you wouldn't think two legislators could impact the fate of a bill so completely, apparently that's the way the votes stack up. While Swan "couldn't be reached for comment" (Dude, check the impound lot) the situation is being described as a "perfect storm" which will cause layoffs and service cutbacks if loan relief doesn't pass.

Ah, Springfield. I'm sure when it's spring, I'll still be writing about Springfield.

Towing Tops The Gripe List At West Virginia University, Morgantown Photo

According to a recent article in The Charleston Gazette, click here, college students in Morgantown usually have three main areas of concern: parking, TOWING, and landlord issues.

Their student government is speaking up for them at the state legislature, trying to have influence on legislation...

These student leaders have proposed that tow truck drivers should be required to take some other form of payment besides cash and, oh gee, stop operating on "a policy of intimidation and fear."

I don't know. Sounds like asking for a lot.

The article cites the example of a female student who was (apparently) shaken down for $150 cash, and the driver wouldn't show her the towing company's rates. This sounds very similar to a story I documented in Minneapolis, click here.

Also, storage fees for the first 24 hours after an impound is "killing" students, according to Jason Parsons, student body president.

Notably, this is the first West Virginia story to hit my blog. These student leaders just put their state on the Towing Utopia map.

Signs Of The Predatory Towing Times: "Tow Jack" Included In Urban Dictionary Dot Com Photo

My little contribution to the culture wars: I submitted "Tow Jack" to Urban Dictionary Dot Com, and it was (be still, my foolish heart!) approved and included. Click here for a link.

That wasn't hard, actually. Unlike...

...some contributors to the site, who appear to make stuff up and hope it will be approved for inclusion, (you know who you are) I only submit phrases which I've noted in common usage. And "tow jack" is one such phrase.

Here's an example, click here, where one commenter used the phrase, as in "Sergeant's Towing TOW JACKED a woman in labor."

Towing Scandal Bubbling Beneath The Surface In Lowell, Massachusetts Photo

A recent story in the Lowell Sun Online starts out as a routine and dry report on the renewal of certain towing contracts. Ah, yes, a bread-and-butter city hall story. Nothing too exciting here. Many readers will never finish the story, because they will move on to something more compelling like...crotch-grabbing former state senators, cruising the park benches of Lowell.

But then, midway through, the tone abruptly changes...

Certain juicy facts start getting aired. Here are the spicy nuggets I managed to pick out from a story which was very tightly packed with facts:

* Last year, a towing company called "Gulbicki's, Inc." performed poorly, and was fired. Some of the "poor performance" included not responding to calls. What's the deal with THAT? The calls weren't LUCRATIVE enough?

* Towing companies are trying to gain political power in Lowell, Massachusetts, as evidenced by the fact Alan Kazanjian--the owner of Kazanjian's Garage, which does towing--was recently elected to the city council.

* The towing companies bid for contracts with the city based on how much they are willing to pay the city PER TOW. So, clearly, these companies have a strong incentive to tow, tow, tow. Is there any concern for the public on the Lowell City Council?

* Christopher's Towing of Chelmsford was eliminated from the bidding because the owner, Christopher Ferreira, was convicted of indecent sexual assault and battery. Ferreira blames it all on his lying ex-girlfriend. No, I'm not making that up.

* In 2005, 6 of 7 towing companies bid less than $1.50 on the tows. The Inspector General issued a report accusing the towing firms of "illegally colluding" on bids. Guess who was one of the companies? Kazanjian's Garage!

All in all, one gets the feeling there is a lot of scandal bubbling beneath the surface in Lowell, Massachusetts and I hope the reporter who wrote this article, Jennifer Myers, gets an opportunity to dig into it further. One gets the sense Lowell, Massachusetts may have the same towing scandal potential as Springfield, Massachusetts. (Click here for an example)

"Spokanistan" Continues To Pour On The Predatory Towing Oppression Photo

Apparently, some residents of Spokane refer to the city as "Spokanistan." And it's no wonder. In addition to the year-after-year mass towings in Browne's Addition, click here, television station KXLY has written two more stories about what appears to be rampant predatory towing in "Spokanistan."

The first...

...of the stories is about the cost of towing, which is $500, click here for link. How does Spokane allow towing companies to charge this much money? Well...they do. They just do. Because, apparently, that's "Spokanistan" for you.

The second story is truly heartrending, click here. A woman didn't want to get towed in the street during snow removal, so she parked in the alley. The police thought she was blocking garbage collection even though--oh, gee--garbage collection was delayed due to the snowstorm, so really she wasn't. But she was towed anyway. And now she has a bill for $944, more than she can afford.

The towing company--Evergreen Towing--offered to knock off half the free, but the lady says she still can't afford to get her car back.

Predatory Towing Caused Christmas Misery In Springfield, Missouri Photo

A twisted, wrong-headed interpretation of the words "overnight parking" caused misery for a family in Springfield, according to an article on, click here.

It happened like this: The MacGregor family has a daughter, and the daughter's boyfriend was visiting on Christmas. So that tells you something...

It tells you some of the cost of this towing fee will be money the family won't have a chance to use for wedding expenses. Because when a boyfriend visits his girlfriend's family at Christmas, that's SERIOUS.

In any case, the boyfriend and the daughter own a car together (so are they LIVING together? OK, never mind) and he left the car at the Grayhound station after he boarded the bus.

Signs in the parking lot say "No overnight parking" but, obviously, the boyfriend didn't think the sign applied to him leaving the car for a short while and having somebody else pick it up when he boarded the bus. Overnight generally means, well, overnight.

But Greyhound seems to think the words "overnight parking" should be interpreted "unattended vehicles."

Such overzealous interpretation makes me strongly suspect (though I can't prove it, admittedly) somebody is getting a kickback from the towing companies. This type of kickback is so common, and causes so much predatory and abusive towing, that many states have outlawed the practice.

Here's another reason to, as they say, "Go Greyhound" and "Leave the driving to us." Because Greyhound tricked you with a deceptive parking lot sign, then had your car towed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

City Of Spokane Pours On The Predatory Towing Oppression In Browne's Addition Photo, Spokane

Apparently it happens every year. Snow falls and the City of Spokane demands "move your vehicle!" The residents of an area called Browne's Addition ask...

"Where? Where am I supposed to move it?" And the city tows, like, FIFTY VEHICLES as though the politicians, in their infinite wisdom, are being REASONABLE.

And with KXLY writing stories like this, click here, about a "necessary evil," an uprising like that seen in other states (click here) does not seem likely any time soon.

The real story is told in a single comment posted to the KXLY story:

* "I had no place to move my car, and (I) am an older single parent, with only my Down Syndrome son at home! It took me days to dig out my car and then I couldn't get out because the street had not been plowed."

I have to wonder what is up with the political situation in Spokane. Do the residents of Browne's Addition lack representation and political power to such a degree they are forced to take this, year after year?

On another note: this is my first post for the State of Washington. This tells you something about Washington State: usually, they manage to treat their citizens pretty well. But Spokane is apparently an exception.

Well, even then, not all of Spokane...just the hard-luck, downtrodden souls in Browne's Addition.

Mass Towing Added To A Miserable 2008 Holiday Season Photo

As if it wasn't bad enough that our nation had one of the worst Christmas retail seasons ever, the large pre-holiday winter storm which dumped snow all over the nation gave many cities an excuse to...

...add even further misery to tightly-stretched holiday budgets with predatory towing practices.

Idaho Falls was an example of this, click here, but I can't really single out this city. Abusive, mass-attack towing happened all over the country...with the notable exceptions of Albany, New York and, (I can assume this based on earlier coverage) Madison, Wisconsin.

It is frustrating for me to see the snowstorm watch media reports about delayed flights, cars buried in white, streets full of slush, and to know beyond a doubt people will get towed, they will be abused, they will be turned upside down and money shook out of their pockets.

And, worst of all, many will assume "that's just the way it is" or tell themselves they were "stupid" for parking where they assumed, innocently, they could indeed park.

While Albany, NY Does The Right Thing, Rochester, NY Embraces Predatory Towing Photo, Rochester, New York

Even while another city in the same state embraces humane, creative solutions to avoid excessive and predatory towing, the city of Rochester, New York recently went all out to add more misery to what was, already, a pretty dismal holiday season...

You can read the article by Sean Carroll of 13 WHAM right here, click here for article, including something I find to be inexplicable and just-plain-wrong editorializing: the reporter's remark that "it wasn't what the city wanted to do, but it was necessary..."

Was it? Then how does Albany manage to avoid it so effectively, click here?

Now Predatory Towing Has Brought The Wrath Of The Church Photo, Cathedral City, California

An interesting new pattern has emerged in Cathedral City, California, in the growing movement against predatory towing: a church has become involved on behalf of its parishioners, who have been repeatedly victimized. The church is St. Louis Catholic Church, which has many Latino members.


I've written about how good-old fashioned community organizing by residents of an apartment complex caused an actual uprising against predatory towing, click here. However, the recent article in, click here, shows activism over this issue may take many forms, and the involvement of religious figures is one such possibility. In Cathedral City, springing a car from the impound lot can cost a whopping $1,500...traffic ticket NOT included.

Who allowed this madness? It's almost besides the point to ask my usual geeky question: do they have real time internet tracking of vehicles and charges?

I'm glad to document this involvement by a church, because if a congregation somewhere else is contemplating getting involved in the issue of predatory towing, this story shows church involvement is not without precedent. St. Louis Catholic Church in Cathedral City, California, was the first to step forward.

Well, the first I know about.

Albany, New York Tries To Do The Right Thing And Avoid Predatory Towing photo

First of all, kudos to Albany, New York, which is at least TRYING to avoid towing massive numbers of vehicles being towed after the recent, pre-holiday snow storm. In Albany, according to this article, (click here) police officers were...

...actually looking up plate numbers, then knocking on doors to alert residents they should "move it or lose it." I've written before about cities trying to use more humane towing tactics, notably in Montreal and Madison, Wisconsin.

However, the tactic of running plates and knocking on doors--though clever, and certainly a lifesaver to those individuals who were notified in this way--is a rather inefficient use of police resources. Imagine if police had a device which allowed them to enter the plate number of a vehicle...and, instantly, there would be a phone call and email sent to the owner of the vehicle, warning them to "move it or lose it?"

Yes, police could still knock on doors...but as a last resort, after the more efficient and high-tech tactic failed to reach the owner of the vehicle. Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, some vehicles will get towed. That's when it becomes important to track vehicle data on the internet, in real time.

But there seems to be an encouraging trend taking root, and maybe it has something to do with the tough economy, ironically enough. Public officials know citizens are hurting. And having your car towed--particularly right before Christmas--is an unkind cut, and best avoided entirely.

Ashville, North Carolina Turns The Tables On Predatory Towing

Mug shots are government documents, therefore
in the public domain

Asheville, North Carolina represents an interesting evolution in local predatory towing consciousness, which this blog has followed from its very beginning...

First, local chamber-of-commerce folks listed some areas of concern which were hurting tourism, and predatory towing was on the list, click here. (Surprisingly, tacky naked cherub statues weren't even mentioned)

Then a much longer, more in-depth article in the local paper started getting a lot more specific about the predatory towing problems, click here.

Well, now we see a "sting operation" in which towing operators made off with a police decoy vehicle in a blatantly illegal act of automotive theft, of the kind which was happening constantly and they were GETTING AWAY WITH IT.

Local media had a field day with this. Here's a great opinion piece about the sting operation,
click here. It's mostly a triumphant "I told you so" by the author, who has been blowing the whistle on predatory towing in Asheville for years.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for cities to just rest on their laurels after pulling off such a spectacular turning of the tables on a predatory towing operation. However, this rather symbolic and feel-good sting doesn't solve the "dude, where's my car?" systemic issues, which are best solved by technology, including an ability to track vehicles in real time on the internet. The problem is not just bad people (though that's part of the problem) but archaic "metal hook and carbon paper" towing systems.

My Little Letter Writing Campaigns About Predatory Towing Photo by Russell, A Victim Of
Predatory Towing In Hawaii

Hawaii's newspaper published my letter to the editor! (click here) SO COOL! Sometimes, truthfully, I don't even go back to check and find out if all the letters I'm firing off are getting published.

In regard to Hawaii: my father was at the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the "island paradise" is a place I've always wanted to visit. I would like to sit under a palm tree and read "From Here To Eternity."

But, hey, I wouldn't want to get my rental car towed, and have somebody at the impound lot turn me upside down and shake the coinage out of my pockets. I wouldn't want to take that long, dreary walk out to "Sand Island" where Edge Towing has set up shop, apparently to maximize its allowable mileage revenue, according to more than one witness.

I'm convinced predatory towing has taken root in Hawaii, based on things I'm turning up in my blog research. BEWARE if you plan to vacation in Hawaii.

(Do not click "Read More")

Predatory Towing And Non-Consensual Tire Baldness On The Island Paradise Of Hawaii photo, above, and another one below

Here's yet another example of a predatory towing horror story to hit the website, where participants post their personal photos...

A guy named Russell not only got taken to the cleaners by Edge Towing in the same manner as another poster on this blog, click here, but Russell says the "shmoe" towing the vehicle dragged it in such a way to damage the tire, seen above.

Hawaii depends heavily on tourism revenue for its economy, and people who have predatory towing experiences frequently vow to NEVER COME BACK to tourist spots where they endured such victimization. How has Hawaii allowed Edge Towing to begin damaging the reputation of the state as a fun tourist spot?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Madison, Wisconsin Tries To Minimize Towing Abuse Photo

Madison, Wisc. is using a tactic I have suggested other northern U.S. cities should adopt: they tow vehicles to legal parking instead of impound lots, charging fines which sting, but are NOT outrageous.

According to...

...NBC 26, click here, recently 182 cars were cleared from a vital snow emergency route in Madison. The vehicles were taken to a nearby street where parking was legal, and tickets were slipped under the windshield: $50 for the ticket, $60 for the tow, a total of MERELY $110.

Montreal uses a similar tactic, and I've gone out of my way to publicize it, click here.

However, superior even to the "Montreal Model" (which is now the "Montreal/Madison Model") would be electronic notification by email and cell phone, what I call the "move it or lose it" model. Why move cars to the next street? Notify the drivers and watch them come rushing out of their houses, cell phones and Blackberries in hand.

The personal and economic disruption of towing must be minimized. Madison is doing the right thing. There's room for a lot of improvement, but Madison is heading in the right direction.

Real Time Internet Towing Data Needed, Too

However, what happens when approximately 182 people wake up in the morning and wonder where to find their cars? They're going to be calling on the phones, jamming up the system, getting themselves late for work, slowing down the economy.

That's why towing data should be online. People would come to learn they can go to a website and find their car, rather than spending time on hold, cussing.

An Amusing Side Note

One local blog referred to Madison's scheme of alternate side street parking as a "memory tax," click here. Funny.

Madison is doing better than most northern U.S. cities. Hats off to Madison. And, oh gee, this is the first Wisconsin entry on the "Towing Utopia National Map." Madison, you're the star pupil today.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sex Offender Tow Truck Driver Made Off With 2-Year-Old Girl

Mug Shot, Therefore In The Public Domain

It's not as bad as my headline would indicate. The child was apparently not harmed. It happened in Stafford, Virginia...

...according to this article, click here, when the mother of a 2-year-old girl left her child sitting in a double-parked car on the 1200 block of Thomas Jefferson Place.

The tow truck driver, Jason Michael Bryant, 25, towed the car away with the child inside. And, oh gee, he just HAPPENED to be a sex offender, whose past offense included sexual contact with a child. However, the employees at the towing yard found the child and called the sheriff's department, according to the article, "about four minutes after the mother did."

So Mr. sex-offender-tow-truck-driver didn't have a very wide window of opportunity to harm the child, one would hope.

Here is an example of somebody who brings the "predator" to "predatory towing." People like this are why I work late on a Saturday night, blogging.

Citizens Use Internet To Get Even With Retriever Towing, Portland, Oregon Photo, Portland, OR

I've mentioned the tactic before in previous blog posts, including this one about the situation with Lone Star Towing in Texas, click here. When a company is engaged in predatory towing, upset citizens can just go to sites like "Merchant Circle" and pour in negative reviews, plus...

...they can publish useful information about whatever controversy is causing citizens to become so upset in the first place. This kind of information enlightens others, instead of just being a worthless spleen venting and outpouring of expletives, without explanation about WHY people are so mad at the company in question.

Right now, Retriever Towing of Portland, Oregon is on the receiving end of such an outpouring of enlightened consumer fury. Check out the reviews posted at City Search, click here.

One poster is actually suggesting boycotting businesses who use Retriever Towing. As of today only one person had posted a review to "Merchant Circle," but now the total is, shall we say, up to two, click here.

Also, there are seven reports about Retriever Towing at Rip Off Report Dot Com, but I'm hoping the total will soon be eight; since I submitted one.

A Summary Of Anti-Predatory Towing Law In California Photo

This is certainly not legal advice, but I recently turned up a thumbnail summary of the law in California, and so--as part of my effort to be a one-stop-shop in regard to predatory and abusive towing issues, including laws to protect against that sort of thing, I'm going to reproduce the "thumbnail summary" of the law for those who may be searching for a clewwwwwwwwww in California....

This summary comes from Consumer Connection, a publication of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. It is, therefore, public and government information which can be promulgated verbatim.

This is apparently the law which banned "patrol towing" in California, something activist Sean Cruz is always urging for the State of Oregon, click here.

The Law's Preamble. Or Not.

"Tow truck drivers risk their lives every day to..."

OK, forget that part. If you want to read pro-tow propaganda, you can check out this blog, click here. I'll skip to the good part:

Patrol Towing Is The Devil

The worst cases of predatory towing involve "patrol" or "satellite" towing. That's when a tow truck driver, on a tip from a spotter, tows away a car illegally parked on private property, such as a no-parking area of a shopping mall or apartment complex. If that happens, the car owner has to pay the cost of towing, storage, and other fees to get the car back.

A new law, Assembly Bill 2210 (Goldberg, Chapter 609, Statutes of 2006) protects consumers against the worst of illegal towing. Under AB 2210, if you spot a tow truck driver taking your car, and the tow truck is still on private property, the driver must release your car to you unconditionally.

Fines For Tow Truck Drivers

A tow truck operator who violates this law is subject to a civil misdemeanor, a fine of $2,500, and/or three months in jail. Also, consumers who can prove they have been charged illegal or excessive towing or storage fees are entitled to recover four times the amount of those fees in small claims court.

Below is a summary of the changes in the law under AB 2210. Remember these guidelines apply only to tows from private property.

One-Hour Rule

A vehicle must be parked for one full hour before being towed unless it is parked in a manner that interferes with an entrance or exit, is within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, or in a fire lane. The curb of a fire line must be painted red and be clearly labeled "NO PARKING FIRE LANE."

Unconditional Release

If a vehicle owner encounters a tower removing his or her vehicle but the truck is not yet on a public road, the owner may demand the immediate and unconditional release of the vehicle. The law does not require the owner to provide a driver's license.

Reasonable Release Fee (Or, So Much For "Unconditional Release")

If the tower releases a vehicle that has been illegally parked, the tower is entitled to no more than one-half of his normal towing fee. Local law enforcement can tell you what the normal towing fee is in your area.

Ten-Mile Limit

A tower cannot take your vehicle to a storage lot that is more than ten miles from where it was parked.

Clearly-Posted Warning

A tower must have written consent from the property owner or his agent, who must have waited one hour before calling for the tow. Also, a sign not less than 17 inches by 22 inches in size should be displayed in plain view at all entrances to the property.

Valid Towing Permit (Photos, Records, No Kick-Backs)

The tower must have a valid motor carrier permit, shall make records and photographs of each tow available for law enforcement, and shall not share profits from towing with property owners who call for a vehicle removal.

Credit Cards OK

The tower must accept credit cards in payment for towing and storage fees, which must be reasonable.

Compliance Within 24 Hours Equals One Day Maximum Storage Charge

If the appropriate fees are paid within the initial 24 hours of storage and the storage facility fails to comply or is not open during normal business hours, then only one day's storage fee may be charged.

Reasonable Gate Fee

The gate fee, or maximum hourly charge for releasing a vehicle after normal business hours, shall be one half the hourly tow rate charged for initially towing the vehicle, or less.

Penalty For Excessive Charges

A person who charges a vehicle owner a towing service or storage charge at an excessive rate is liable to the vehicle owner for four times the amount charged.

If You Have A Complaint

You should contact your local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau--

(OK, let me break in right now and say that's just LAME)

You may also check the driver's reposessor's license on DCA's Bureau of Security and Investigative Services or by calling 800-952-5210. Civil claims against a tower should be filed in the Small Claims Court. The Department of Consumer Affairs also publishes a Guide to Using the Small Claims Court.

Weaknesses In The Law

The biggest weakness is there is no oversight arm apparent. The advice to "contact local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau" is worthless. Honestly, I've never had any luck with the Better Business Bureau. There needs to be a bureau to complain about the ineffectiveness of the Better Business Bureau.

In regard to the "one hour rule," how will this stuff be PROVEN? This rule presents an opportunity for somebody to try to catch predatory towing companies in the act, but little more. Proving the vehicle sat somewhere for less than an hour is going to be quite difficult.

The law also says the towing companies must accept credit cards. It doesn't say "all major credit cards." An obvious loophole.

The law doesn't require towing companies to be open 24 hours. Other jurisdictions require this. California needs to catch up.

However, all in all, you're a lot better being in California than in the abusive predatory towing playground of Oregon, for example.

Predatory Towing Is Ruining Tourism In Asheville, North Carolina Photo

Asheville, North Carolina depends heavily on tourism, but a few predatory towing companies are ruining life for everybody. So Asheville is considering new ordinances, probably modeled on those of Raleigh, North Carolina.

I previously reported about how predatory towing was merely on the table for discussion in Asheville, click here, but an excellent and detailed article by Jason Sandford, click here, fleshes out how...

...a tourist-oriented town like Asheville can be harmed by predatory towing. The article is not merely a window into Asheville, but something of a case study in predatory-towing-meets-tourism industry.

Here are some highlights of the article.

Way To Spoil Asheville For Us

A husband and wife were downtown at a restaurant and--wouldn't you know it--thought a parking lot next to the restaurant was a good place to, well, park. Ha ha. Tourists.

They were having drinks across the street when WHAT did they see? A pink elephant? No, it was their car being dragged away by a tow truck.

What started as a fun night out turned into a tale of misery. After that, the couple stayed in the hotel at the outskirts of town, ate at the Outback steak chain, and refused to dump money in the downtown art shops and eateries.

Big Whopping Lies?

Faced with a proposal to tweak Asheville's laws to look more like the laws of Raleigh, NC, the owner of a local towing company complained about the possibility of being required to accept credit cards and not just cash. He claims--and I find this claim truly incredible, PROVE IT, I say--that "over half of customers reversed charges" back when he allowed credit cards.

Prove it, I say. I find it incredible that 50 percent of the public would be that bold, that innovative, that rebellious, even in the heart of Dixieland where common sense is king and folks know a lot of smart tricks. I'd believe ten percent, even twenty, but FIFTY? Sounds like a big whopper to me. But I'm open to hearing the evidence.

The Ultimate "Tourist Friendly" Solution

So how about using high tech to notify individuals of an impending tow so they can "move it or lose it?" Wouldn't that be the ultimate "tourist friendly solution" to fight predatory towing?

A small town like Asheville couldn't pull something like this off, all by itself. Indeed, even when I propose the "high tech move it or lose it notification" in cities like Minneapolis, where there are a lot of snow emergencies, I usually propose having individuals buy some sort of sticker to place on their vehicle. Such a solution wouldn't be practical for tourists.

But consider this: a whole bunch of tourist towns all getting together, coordinating with entities like "Triple A," to compile a massive list of auto information...enough to notify a lot of tourists (certainly not all, but a lot) of an impending tow if their particular car should be sitting where it's not supposed to sit.

Ultimately, the whole nation should adopt high tech solutions, not only "move it or lose it notification" but also systems to let towed drivers find their car in the system quickly, easily...all over the nation, in a seamless web of information between various jurisdictions.

Ah, yes, that's quite a vision. But in the meantime, maybe there's a way to get Danny Jones of All-Safe Towing to quit preying on tourists cars in Asheville, before he manages to kill what sounds like a really fun and funky downtown.

The Value of Upset Letters To Local Chambers Of Commerce

Oh, by the is yet another instance of a local chamber of commerce reacting to upset letters from the victims of predatory towing. If you are towed in a small sure to vent your spleen on the local Chamber of Commerce, and let them know you're NEVER COMING BACK TO THEIR CRUMMY TOWN AGAIN because of what happened.

Some places might even give you gift certificates and a free hotel stay. And if not, what have you lost? A stamp. What have you gained? An opportunity to make sure your suffering is not borne by you alone, but somehow contributes to the greater good.

Chambers Of Commerce Getting Involved

This article also shows Chambers of Commerce can approach their local government and ask for reforms to prevent predatory towing, and they can get somewhere like that. I hope more Chambers of Commerce will follow Asheville's example.

A Victim's Eye View Of The Scary Impound Lot In Kansas City, Kansas Photos

While searching for an image to illustrate the previous blog post, click here, I stumbled upon some images of the impound lot in Kansas City, KANSAS which some unfortunate citizen snapped while retrieving a car towed for expired plates. (Which were only expired because of a "paperwork mix-up")

As is so often the case...

...a trip to the impound lot is a bleak, scary journey into automotive Purgatory. You really have to wonder if there are laws requiring impound lots to be located in vast fields of mud, or to have dirty, neglected piles of automotive debris, or to bear a scary resemblance to a political "re-education camp."

Thanks to this photo contributor for helping me add the State of Kansas to the Towing Utopia Dot Com national map.

Dark and Dingy Garages, Warning Signs On Wheels, And No You DO NOT Get A Receipt, Lady...All In Kansas City, Mo. Photo, Kansas City, Mo.

As I reported a couple weeks ago, click here, Kansas City, Mo. is in the process of revising its ordinances, trying to eliminate some of the rampant abuses by towing companies.

Like water long under pressure erupting in a geyser, (or maybe a broken radiator hose would be a better example) citizens vented tales of victimization by towing companies on the prowl...

According to this article in the Kansas City Star, click here, many of the complaints center on inadequate signs in parking lots which were "broken, hung upside down, hidden in dark corners or non existent." One woman was denied a receipt after retrieving her car from a "dark and dingy" garage.

A man named Jonathan De Haven lost his job after losing his car, and noted the warning sign mysteriously appeared after he doubt aided by the fact it was on wheels.

Readers should take note of the statement in the "manifest" of this blog, about the intimate connection between one's car and one's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

I'm glad to say I contacted the office of Kansas City Councilperson Circo to make sure she knew about this blog, where many examples have been gathered of cities trying to reform their ordinances. The article in the Kansas City Star lists the reforms Circo has proposed, and these are all good reforms, but individuals who posted in the comments section of the article (part of the "sub-blogosphere") are emphatic that Kansas City doesn't actually ENFORCE its laws about towing.

For example, "chasing tows" is illegal, and yet (according to some posters) there is ample evidence tow trucks are running to accident scenes by monitoring police radio channels, often arriving even before squad cars.

Notably, the Kansas City Star has reportedly been swamped with calls complaining about predatory towing, as one of its higher-ups mentioned in passing. (Click here)

Once this ordinances is passed (and I think it will be) a good story for the Kansas City Star might be trying to see if the rules are actually being enforced.

From Spontaneous Uprising To Planned Protest (America Wakes Up To Predatory Towing)

Photo By John Hoff, "Poor People's March"

Perhaps there have been other planned, coordinated protests against predatory towing incidents prior to one recently announced in somebody posting under the label "napd" on the blog of Sean Cruz, click here.

Yes, possibly. I haven't heard of any sign-waving, slogan-chanting examples, but I admit it's possible there have been a few, most likely on some campus.

But as an activist and a relentless life-long do-gooder, I'm pretty familiar with various social movements and how they evolve. What I'm observing now is an interesting, predictable development in social consciousness and activism around the issue of predatory and abusive towing, as some of the more informed people in the country...

...make the transition from merely waking up to predatory towing to actually doing something about it. Therefore, I see it as the duty of this blog to repeat and amplify the "call to protest" announced on the blog of Sean Cruz.

Here is the call to protest, such as it is, pretty much verbatim...though I eliminated the "all caps" in the body of the original posting:


I'm working on a formal letter to the governor, with cc to the mayor, attorney general, city and state police department regarding Retriever Towing and I need as many signatures as possible.

I'm also in the process of organizing a peaceful march early in January. The plan is to start from their site under I-405 and march to City Hall. (By "their site," the poster apparently means Retriever Towing)

I will provide more info by end of next week with additional info as soon as the letter is ready and plans are better defined.

We need to create awareness not only about the obvious public health and safety issue that this represents but also the economic impact on unaware businesses under contract with them (Retriever Towing, I assume) and how this scares customers away from their premises.

Does anyone know about other property managers canceling their contracts with them, or business owners with similar concerns or dissatisfied with their service? It is clear now how unregulated industries and special interests can drive an entire economy down. We need to take action.

The Spark That Ignited Involvement

Our family car was towed with our nephew's asthma medication and car seats in it. Our family was stranded in the rainy weather for an hour and Mr. Coe (of Retriever Towing) himself denied access to the car before payment was made which I understand is required by law.

(A side note, here. Check out Minnesota's proposal for a "let people get their stuff" law, click here. I'm still trying to find out if it became law or not)

They put us in their known"time out" and made us wait even longer (they used to charge customers for this) The police were called and upon arrival they acknowledged knowing about Retriever Towing having out-of-control predatory towing practices, but said they couldn't do much about it. We still had to pay first despite our plea regarding the urgency of the medication and car seats.

If Retriever Towing can tow a police car in Gresham responding to a 911 call, ignore a request from a police officer in Wilsonville responding to a call by a domestic violence victim, disregard common sense, public safety and many more instances that can be found with a simple Google search (even in the national news) and are frequently in the local news, (then) it is time to do something more than just posting outrage on a website or waiting for the government to get involved.

Citizens In Open Insurrection
A few weeks ago, the Oregonian reported on a woman and an angry mob who set a Retriever truck on fire and who was arrested on a 220k bond. That's just another example that public outrage with this confrontational tow company is leading to more and more violence. Hoepfully, the government will get involved soon.

I'll provide more information later.

What Will Happen In Oregon?

It will be interesting to see whether there really will be a protest march, and what will come of that. I'll certainly try to report on it, and I've forwarded a request for pictures, information if and when it happens.

However, even the mere CALL for a protest march represents a kind of evolutionary development with the social issue of predatory towing.

Oregon Continues To Be A "Predatory Towing Theme Park" Filled With Abused Citizens Photo

There is no end to the predatory towing abuses in Oregon, which recently included a domestic violence victim "re-victimized" by the infamous "Retriever Towing" outfit. Fortunately...

...Oregon has Sean Cruz, who stays on top of these issues and constantly brings up the need to ban "patrol towing" in Oregon, like California and Washington State have already banned the practice. Sean's recent blog post, click here, included a bunch of URLs with information about the ongoing saga with Retriever Towing.

(I've encouraged Sean to use "live links" with his blog, a practice which requires only a slight bit of technical know-how)

Here are some highlights from Sean's material which I'd like to highlight:

* According to an article in the Oregonian, click here, there was a "predatory towing uprising" incident, which included an angry crowd and an attempt to set fire to the tow truck, with the vehicle owner under arrest. My blog has been attempting to document these uprisings, like the one in at Abbey Court in Carrboro, North Carolina, which seems to have been the Lexington and Concord of this widening rebellion.

This type of citizen-led "direct action" seems to be picking up steam at the same time the public becomes more enlightened about the concept of "predatory and abusive towing" through efforts like those of Sean Cruz and Towing Utopia.

I do not advocate violence. I certainly do advocate protest.

* Sean Cruz wrote about another incident, reported by KATU, in which a driver for Sergeant's "tow jacked" the car of a woman in labor, click here for article.

The comments section of this article is quite notable, with some individuals actually emailing the company in question and then posting the response on the comments thread. This is a great example of the sub-blogosphere in action, and actually adding useful information to public discourse...for a change.

* Sean Cruz points out "the 2007 Oregon Legislature, under the leadership of Senator Avel Gordly, imposed regulations on patrol towing that have yet to be fully implemented, particularly by local governments."


* Cruz points out two truck drivers must provide "their prospective victims" with a printed rate sheet so there is "no confusion about the amount of ransom demanded." If this isn't happening, folks in Oregon need to notify the Oregon Attorney General's Office.

* In wording very similar to the "manifest" of this very blog, Sean points out "the towers demands are often confiscatory in effect. Loss of vehicle is a penalty far beyond what is just for the 'offense' that may or may not have been committed by the vehicle owner."

Indeed. That is why citizens should be going into court and suing to have whole bodies of state towing laws overturned on constitutional grounds, whether state or local. YES, there is a time and a place for non-consent towing. But it must be regulated and transparent, with emerging technology used across the spectrum of the "towing life cycle" to make sure nobody needs to say "Dude, where's my car?" and not have an answer for days.

Note: the photo above is of a tow truck driver in Oregon, but is for illustration purposes only. No implication is intended that the driver was engaged in abusive towing practices.

No More "Tricked And Trapped" On Washington Avenue SE (Thank You, Councilman Cam Gordon!) Photo

I've written a couple of times about the "tricked and trapped" towing situation in the Stadium Village neighborhood of Minneapolis, click here, and also click here.

Could it just be some kind of weird blogosphere coincidence that the City of Minneapolis has fixed the problem along that small stretch of street, plus installed innovative new meters which take credit cards? Somehow, I don't think so! But I'm going to give credit to... Councilman Cam Gordon, who told me during his election four years ago (I can hardly believe it was that long) he would indeed look into the issue of more advanced parking meters which might take plastic, like the ones in San Francisco. The meter discussion came up in a series of opinion columns I wrote about the Ward 2 election in Minneapolis, highlighting the two candidates for the Ward 2 council seat but strategically mentioning--OVER AND OVER--there was A GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE IN THE RACE.

(Alleged "improvements" to the Minnesota Daily website makes it difficult to find those old columns in question and create some links)

A recent article in the Minnesota Daily discusses the installation of the new meters, click here, but when I rushed over to see the new meters, my heart filled with joy, pitter pat, it was even better than I could have imagined:

The tricky signage also got changed. You see, the credit card meters aren't at every space, but provide coverage of a number of spaces kind of like a pay lot. So when new signage was erected to direct motorists to the new meters, the towing situation along the street became much more apparent due to the changes in the signage. Now, you can't really put money in the meter without seeing the sign about how YOU WILL BE TOWED if you stay on the street when you're not supposed to.

I almost wish I was in Ward 2 so I could vote for Cam Gordon, but I have my own mission in North Minneapolis.

Cam Gordon really is making life better for U of M students, even though bureaucracy is a big machine to push against, and progress comes in increments. But a long time ago Cam said he was taking an interest in the new meters, and the new meters finally arrived. So I give credit to Cam.

Yeah, I'll probably ask Cam about how it happened, there, but I still give credit to Cam Gordon, here and now.

I hope the new meters work as good as the manufacturer (I am sure) has promised, and eventually replace all the clunky, mean, obsolete, quarters-only meters.

But we still have a long way to go in Minneapolis to eliminate predatory towing. The new meters tend to show what I've been trumpeting for months: communicative technology is the key to eliminating predatory towing.