Mobile Alabama Skyline – Looking South West

Mobile has a towing problem. If you ask the police administration, they will tell you it started with towing companies overcharging for their services. If you ask the towing companies, they will tell you it started when the police administration started targeting a few companies that dared to speak up about the towing ordnance it had.  Either way, the end result is that the people are the ones getting hurt 

This all started several months ago when the towing community approached the city about revising the City ordinance governing the police department’s rotation list for towing companies called out to the scene of vehicle accidents. The last time the ordinance was updated was in 1988. That’s right the last time the City of Mobile updated it’s towing ordnance, Ronald Reagan was President and George Bush the original was running against the ‘Little General’ to replace him! There are many issues surrounding the towing ordinance that needs to to be addressed and updated to bring everything back into balance. Here is a look at them.

Pricing

$125 a tow back in 1988 went a lot further than it does in 2019. Nowadays $125 barely covers the expenses of the tow truck. That’s why tow truck companies on the rotation list have started charging fees that are not explicitly listed in the towing ordinance, to be able to cover their expenses but also make a little bit of a profit as well. This practice now has five of the towing companies facing the prospect of criminal charges from the city while evidence suggests that even more of the companies on the rotation list engage in the same practices. Updating the pricing list by surveying the companies that are on that list, asking them what their normal pricing structure for the fees is and coming up with a reasonable average to include in the ordinance will solve this problem. Of course, several of the towing companies would also argue that federal law prohibits the city from regulating the pricing on what is called consensual towing. The city will argue that towing companies voluntarily sign up for the rotation list and agree to the pricing when they do so. Which makes solving the next issue important in resolving that disagreement.

Paperwork

Paperwork from all parties involved need to get much more thorough.in addition to updating the city ordinance on towing. The police department also needs to draw up an agreement that each towing company that wants to join the rotation list must sign off on to be a part of the rotation. The agreement needs to include the pricing for the fees that each towing company can charge, clearly listed, as well as a stipulation that those are the only fees allowed to be charged on a rotation list tow. The agreement also needs to include wording that the tow truck companies signing the agreement are voluntarily subjecting themselves to these restrictions and understand that they can remove themselves, either permanently or temporarily, at any time.

To that extent, because citizens who get in vehicle accidents in the city of Mobile are given the option of either calling their own tow truck or having the police call the next company on the rotation list, citizens at the scene of an accident need to be given a form (which they’re already supposed to be given) indicating which tow company they would like to have called to the scene, or selecting the option of having the next company in the rotation called. As a part of that form the citizens contact information including their name, address, phone number, and insurance information needs to be included. Language on that form also needs to include the statement that the form is a binding contract between the citizen and the tow company listed on the paperwork and failure by either party could result in further collection actions.

To protect themselves from accusations of fraud or overcharging in the future, towing companies need to implement a much more detailed and itemized invoicing system then is currently in place. The reason the five companies that are facing the prospect of criminal charges are in that position is because they left themselves vulnerable to those accusations due to The lack of detailed record keeping. Technology has made it so easy for small businesses nowadays to keep detailed records and bookkeeping that there’s no excuse for tow companies not to implement it. you can get bookkeeping software that includes invoicing, you can download invoicing templates for spreadsheet programs, or you can even get invoicing software that specifically designed only invoicing. This is the biggest take away I hope everybody related to the towing industry in our city has, the essential need for detailed invoicing.

Violations

The new revised ordinance related towing in this city also needs to clearly lay out the maximum punishments for minor violations and major violations and have an escalating scale for repeat offenses. The ordinance also needs to clearly lay out what is a minor violation with examples (like inadvertently charging a customer for the first two days of storage that they were not supposed to) and what is a major violation is with examples (like charging for service that was not rendered).

Furthermore, the ordinance or Police Department administration needs to clearly designate a commander or a department that is responsible for fielding complaints about possible violations of the towing ordinance and investigating them and administering corrective action as necessary. It also needs to be clearly communicated to the people of the city, as well as the towing companies, which department or commander is responsible for this.

99% of the situations related to the towing ordinance that is currently causing a high level of heartburn in this city could have been dealt with in an administrative manner efficiently and effectively at the time of the potential violation that would not have resulted in the police conducting a criminal investigations or the towing companies feeling targeted, which they feel is not designed to actually address the issues. Handling the issues in that manner actually could have led to a continued positive and harmonious relationship between the police and the towing community. Because of the way the events of the last couple of months have unfolded, I think that harmonious relationship is forever broken.

David Preston
David is a small business owner and contributing columnist to BamaPolitics.com. He attended the University of South Alabama and studied political science. He ran for his first and only political office in the city of Daphne, Alabama for city council where he lost by less than 200 votes to a sitting incumbent. David has a passion for all levels of politics, aviation, business development and recruitment, history (his dad drug him to Civil War battlefield for Summer vacation instead of Disney world and six flags) and the Mobile region.