Minneapolis considers cap for towing fees in city

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Why in the world does it cost $280 to get your car out of the impound lot after it’s been towed for a parking violation? It’s a question Minneapolis city council members started probing yesterday afternoon, albeit without much success.

Council Member Gary Schiff has proposed an ordinance amendment that would cap towing companies’ fees at the amount the city charges for comparable “services,” around $150. Right now, the fees are unregulated. A public hearing was held at Wednesday’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee meeting.

Al Garcia, an attorney for Cedar Towing, handed out a list of expenses that go into the magic number, things like fuel, taxes and payroll. But the breakdown was vague enough that it raised more questions from the committee than it answered. Said Council Member Don Samuels: “These figures don’t mean anything.”

People paying towing fines, as Council Member Paul Ostrow noted during the discussion, aren’t “customers” in the traditional sense. When you leave your car where it’s not supposed to be, you don’t get to comparison shop which tow company hauls it off. So the only real incentive to maintain reasonable rates, it appears, is to avoid being so outlandish that too many angry tow victims call their council members to complain and demand action. And here we are.

Garcia argued the city’s rate isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, because private towing companies have more expenses. Private impound lots, for example, are required to be open 24-hours-a-day and need to hold vehicles 45 days before auctioning them off. The city’s lot isn’t open all day and it can sell unclaimed vehicles after 15 days. Schiff moved to continue the towing discussion after the city can do more research about how private companies’ expenses compare to those of the city.