As of Feb. 10, San Antonio towing companies are now allowed to charge more than double it previously charged to haul away unauthorized vehicles in private parking lots and garages.
The change in the fee, approved Jan. 31 by the City Council, followed months of debate about what constitutes a fair price for a nonconsent tow.
The new $177 fee is still lower than what some companies had charged customers. They contended state law gave them the right to collect $250. The city disagreed, saying its previous $85 limit was valid, and police started a crackdown on towing outfits last spring.
“We reeled them in and set a cap at $177, that we’re going to enforce very aggressively,” District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal said. “It’s not the Wild West out there anymore.”
The increase from $85 to $177 is the first since 2002. Other large Texas cities, like Austin, Dallas and Houston, all have raised their fees in that time.
“We’re pleased that the city has moved forward and set a rate that is more reasonable based on the cost of doing business,” said Liz Johnson, president of the San Antonio Towing Association and owner of Alamo City Recovery.
With the new fee comes greater scrutiny and more regulation of the local towing industry.
Among the state rules now addressed in the city code is a requirement that tow drivers release a vehicle to its owner for free if that vehicle is not fully hooked up to the tow truck and ready for transport.
Other aspects of the new ordinance include:
A fuel adjustment clause that will lower or raise the tow fee if the price of diesel fuel drops below $3.83 per gallon or goes above $3.95 per gallon. The city will review fuel prices every December.
A tow truck driver must inform law enforcement within 45 minutes of towing a vehicle; before, companies had two hours to call police. The ordinance also requires the companies to call police again, after the vehicle is released to the owner.
An $88.50 “drop fee,” the amount a vehicle owner can pay if the vehicle is fully hooked up to a tow truck but hasn’t left a lot. The previous drop fee was $85.
For the first time, the ordinance explains how local towing companies can request a study to re-examine towing charges.