This Washington

Towing Bill Dead for Now Sponsor Says

By Josh Feit March 2, 2012

A few weeks ago, we wrote about a bill which has put the city of Seattle at odds with a representative from its own delegation, freshman Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46, N. Seattle.)

Pollet's bill would cap the fee that towing companies can charge at 135 percent of the Washington State Patrol average cost. The effort to cap towing fees arose last year after media accounts of exorbitant towing fees—over $1,200 in some instances.

However, the outrage at towing companies seems to have played into their hands. With shocking outliers such as $1,200 as the metric, the towing industry, Seattle argues, was able to settle on "an arbitrary number," and evidently—an artificially high number. The 135 percent figure works out to about $270 dollars an hour in Seattle. This is compared to a flat rate in New York City, for example, of $100 with a $10-per-day storage charge of kicking in after three free days.

Seattle wanted a provision in the bill that would have allowed cities statewide to negotiate their own rates based on data about towing charges and costs. Pollet  begrudgingly put that provision in the house bill; he was afraid the provision would cause the industry to kill the bill.

On the senate side, after the transportation committee deleted the provision, the industry eventually agreed to "a limited" version of the exemption for Seattle, Pollet says, but the city didn't bite. Now, the industry has balked at any more talks. The city didn't think the "limited" version actually empowered them to negotiate their own rate.

Pollet says he and his senate colleague, Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) agreed that they wouldn't bring the bill to a vote without the exception for Seattle. But he seems aggravated by the city. Expressing exasperation that the bill, which he says would have "stopped predatory companies state wide from making people lose their cars or not make rent," looks dead, he complains that Seattle wasn't clear on the rates they wanted to set and "it's hard to negotiate when you can't tell what they want."

Exasperated themselves, the city, citing a Catch-22, has a pretty compelling reason for the lacking specifics; besides the comparative New York City numbers—and Indianapolis (maximum fee $150) and Portland ($157)— that they presented at a house committee hearing on Tuesday, the towing industry would not provide them with any data, they say. "I requested data on January 9 and again on February 15," Denise Movius, Seattle's Deputy Director of Finance and Administration says, "and we haven't heard back."

Movius says, "We totally support a statewide cap to stop the gouging, but we also want the city to be able to come in with rates based on what's actually occurring the city. They might be lower, they might not, but we don't know."
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