The Board approved the motion on a 2-1 vote, with Board Chair Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey voting to approve and Walter Tejada voting against the motion. Board Member Mary Hynes had left the meeting earlier with an illness.
The fee increases from $125 — where it had been raised to from $115 in 2011 — to $135, which is the state maximum. As part of the state towing law, Arlington can enact higher towing fees, based on market rates, if they conduct a thorough study, which the Board has instructed county staff to do.
The ordinance also puts in place more stringent requirements for towing companies to document the vehicle’s location, reason for removal and condition before it’s towed, including taking pictures or videos.
Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill said the fee increase was necessary because Arlington is more costly to operate in than nearby jurisdictions. Advanced Towing is one of three towing companies with storage facilities in Arlington, according to Brian Stout, the county’s liaison to the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.
“It is more expensive to operate our business in Arlington than any other location in Virginia,” O’Neill told the Board. “We are close to the point of no return with regards to sustaining an Arlington-based towing firm.”
Tejada asked Stout if companies were required to give car owners information about filing a complaint and their right to inspect their vehicle before paying to get it out of the lot. The ordinance requires the towing company to post signs telling owners their rights, but does not require giving owners a pamphlet or some sort, Stout said. O’Neill said the sign is “the first thing you see” in his lot at 4000 5th Road N. in Ballston.
“I have information that’s not what the case is from residents who have complained to me about having been towed,” Tejada told O’Neill. “There is some predatory towing that’s still happening. I cannot support the motion because there are people who are still being victims of predatory towing, some of whom are low income who don’t even know they have a right to complain. I will cast a vote of ‘no’ on their behalf.”
A majority of the surrounding jurisdictions already have towing fees comparable to Arlington’s new structure, and some have additional penalties up to $50 for nights, weekends and holidays.
The county enacted its towing ordinance years ago after a long history of predatory towing. Fisette, the longest-tenured current Board member, was a part of drafting the original ordinance.
“When I joined the Board, we had tons and tons of complaints about the tow industry, and we had no regulatory authority,” he said. “Having gotten involved, I’ve always recognized that the industry is a need. We’re a compact, busy place with parking issues… The recommendation strengthen the requirements on the towing company. This isn’t only about raising the base fee, it’s balancing it out with becoming more clear on some of the rights of those who own the vehicles.”