City Hall

Even After Second Try, City Still Can't Get Towing Contract Right (for South End)

The city's tow recovery lot lacks reasonable access —according to the city itself.

By Josh Feit October 7, 2013

If it wasn't already weird enough that the city's Department of Finance and Administrative Services awarded Lincoln Towing the new citywide towing services contract (weird because Lincoln only won after the city shelved the initial request for proposal, or RFP, in which two out-of-state companies scored much higher), ... it now gets even weirder.

The reason the city canceled the results of its first search was because they realized state law required the winning bidder to hold a Registered Tow Truck Operator (RTTO) permit at the time the company submitted its bid. The two winners did not meet that requirement. (One of the initial winning companies, San Francisco's AutoReturn, tried to comply the second time around, going as far as buying a local RTTO company, but the city said AutoReturn didn't meet the deadline.)

One defining feature of qualifying as an RTTO is that you own a storage lot.

So, here's the weird part: While Lincoln Towing qualifies as an RTTO (it has storage lots, for example), its South End lot, located on W. Marginal Place S. in Tukwila,  doesn't, according to the city itself, meet the specific terms of the RFP, which says that lots must be “reasonably accessible to one or more public transit routes.” (It's pretty hard to get to your car if you don't have your car.)

According to an email exchange last week  (Lincoln took over the city contract on October 1) between the city and ABC Towing, a local towing company that also lost to Lincoln and has been watching the subsequent process like a hawk, the city acknowledged that Lincoln's South End lot, Dick's Towing, was inadequate. (Lincoln as a North End lot on Aurora.)

In the email obtained by PubliCola, the city admits to ABC that access is lacking in the South End:

Prior to Lincoln Towing’s new contract taking effect, my staff visited the Dick’s storage lot in Tukwila on multiple occasions. Following those visits, they communicated to Lincoln their displeasure that the Dick’s location lacked reasonable access to a bus line(s). In addition, they stated that once the new contract took effect, they would monitor any complaints from the public regarding the lot’s accessibility and would reserve the right to discuss alternatives for serving the South End if the complaints became too numerous.

In other words, the formal reason for re-doing the RFP in the first place—you need to own a lot—turns out to have undermined the city's goals in the instance of its chosen firm, Lincoln. 

Judging from its response to ABC, the city is remedying the problem with a complaint-based system, rather than forcing Lincoln to meet the clear terms of the RFP.

Lincoln's "primary" lot is for people who live in the North End, but the city, having already gone ahead with Lincoln's new system, is still "monitoring the situation" in the South End.

If it's complaints they want, how's this?

A photo essay of a couple's recent 20-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, along streets with no sidewalks, and across private property, to get to the lot: 

 

ABC was so flummoxed when they learned that Lincoln was using such a remote lot, they wrote to the city in earnest: "Why were the bus stop [requirements] taken out of the second RFP? ... I could have lowered my rates significantly if I had used my [own] Tukwila location. Unfortunately for me I was trying to have one location with easy access for the citizens, the police and the subcontractors."

The city told ABC that the bus stop requirements had not, in fact, changed, and that they would "continue to monitor the situation." The city appears to have been sticklers about the initial RTTO requirement, going as far as to reject companies like AutoReturn even after the company bought an RTTO, but evidently not as strict about its accessibility requirement.

Katherine Schubert-Knapp, spokeswoman for the city's Finance and Administrative Services Dept. tells PubliCola: "Lincoln’s primary lot is located on Aurora in Seattle. The City’s concerns are regarding bus access to the secondary lot in Tukwila. We’re monitoring the situation, and if we get a lot of complaints from the public, we’ll discuss alternatives for serving the South End."

So, just to repeat: Lincoln's "primary" lot is for people who live in the North End, but the city, having already gone ahead with Lincoln's new system, is still "monitoring the situation" in the South End.

We have calls in to Lincoln Towing.

Footnote: Last month, Fizz reported that it was odd that Lincoln Towing had maxed out to incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn. Lincoln is currently in a court battle with the city; its political lobbying association, the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington, is suing Seattle in King County Court to repeal the city's cap on towing rates.

Now, the donation, (a bit of a thank you note?) doesn't seem so weird.

Follow-up story, detailing the curious RFP process here.

 

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