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Progressive Voice: Help Fight Predatory Towing

by Nancy Iacomini January 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Nancy IacominiProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington and millions more around the country and the world to show their concern about the direction of our country and their commitment to progressive values and actions.

That commitment and the resulting sense of empowerment will now be carried forward to address federal, state, and local issues – especially those of government overreach.

This time of year is a time that Arlingtonians are greatly affected by the meeting of the General Assembly in Richmond. Decisions made in the General Assembly during its six to eight-week sessions can greatly affect our lives here in Arlington.

Too often those effects reflect state overreach in trying to control how Arlington addresses concerns raised by its residents. A prime example this year is a threat of state weakening of County protections against overly aggressive towing of parked cars.

Many have heard or experienced “predatory” towing. The reports of predatory towing are increasing all over the country, including in Arlington. And many residents are getting really angry.

Have you ever had your car towed within just a few minutes of parking it because someone employed by a towing company was spotting the lot and you stepped over an ill-defined property line?

Or perhaps at night you missed seeing a small sign in a poorly lit parking lot?

Such a small, often unintentional, mistake would cost you $185, along with lots of panic about what happened to your vehicle and the stress of having to find where the vehicle was being held. The punishment, not even handed down by a court of law, is certainly excessive.

Who actually benefits from aggressive towing practices?

While I appreciate the need for businesses to have parking spaces available for their customers and for apartment buildings and condominiums to have spaces available for their residents and residents’ guests, many unsuspecting people get very harsh punishments for rules that were not clear. This creates ill will that is not beneficial to retailers and landlords. The real beneficiary is the towing company. 

As Chairman of Arlington’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, I now know more about towing than I ever wanted to know. The result is my strong support for the County Board’s 2016 amendments to the towing ordinance to strengthen consumer protections against predatory towing. I am also pleased that a dialogue has been established with the local Chamber of Commerce to consider best practices and protections.

This positive outcome is under threat at the General Assembly via two bills that would gut the County’s actions and protect companies engaged in predatory towing.

As originally introduced, House Bill 1960 (Delegate Hugo, R-Centreville) and Senate Bill 1468, (Senator Marsden, D-Western Fairfax County), would hurt Arlingtonians in at least three ways:

Raise fees again. If these bills are enacted, maximum towing fees in Arlington will have increased by 60% over three years — from $125 to $200 per tow. These increases are imposed on Arlington and the County may not set lower rates. By contrast, you can get a private, consensual tow for $65 and $3 per mile!

Prohibit Arlington from protecting its residents. Arlington’s plans to require an authorization at the time of a tow in some circumstances would be nullified. When Virginia Beach and Stafford and Montgomery Counties do this successfully, Arlington should not be stopped by the state from doing the same.

Limit service by residents on towing advisory boards. The board is dominated by towers already. There is only one voting resident permitted. The Chairman is chosen by a vote of the advisory board members – not appointed. Instead of adding resident voices to the towing board, the bills leave only one citizen member and mandate that the Chair be a representative of the towing industry.

If predatory towing practices concern you, please express that concern to your Delegate and State Senator and to the members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees in the General Assembly.

Let them know that you believe overly aggressive and expensive towing practices require fair and reasonable consumer protections. Ask them to oppose HB 1960 and SB 1468.

There is also an online petition where you can also sign on to express your concern.

Let’s stop this overreach.

Nancy Iacomini has resided in Arlington since 1980 and has undertaken many civic endeavors during that time, including leadership positions in various boards, commissions, and working groups.

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