Towing For Dollar$ still has many problems
Recently approved Changes are like bandaging a cancer

by John Gaver
January 13, 2005


Boss Hogg (aka Mayor White) announced, on January 12, several proposed changes to his Towing For Dollar$ Revenue $cam. Surprisingly, these changes do represent a minor improvement. However, they only address the one financial problem with their scam and don't even begin to address several of the real issues. In fact, since these new changes will reduce revenue to the chosen few wrecker companies, who paid a total of about $1.4 million for their "exclusive" zones, these changes will require all Houston taxpayers to subsidize the 11 chosen towing companies for the not-so-free tows that the new policy requires. The the revised Towing For Dollar$ policy still creates many problems and solves none. There is now no question that it is not about safety, but about money.

The real problems have to do with you and me - the people who drive on those freeways and have to deal with the effects of this revenue $cam. Each designated section of freeway has one wrecker assigned to it. No other wrecker company can tow from that section of freeway, even if the driver of the disabled vehicle owned his own wrecker company. If there are two or more dissabled vehicles in a single zone and both are actually blocking traffic, then the company responsible for that zone can bring in another wrecker from another area, which could take some time. Allowing other towing companies, who have a city license - just not one for that zone - to tow from the freeways, would certainly speed up getting those vehicles out of the flow of traffic, instead of waiting for an "authorized" wrecker from across town.

But, it gets worse. I actually saw this. Because of the "forced" tow from the shoulder provision, in this revenue $cam, a wrecker was busy hooking up to a car that was safely well onto the shoulder, with at least three feet between the car and the lane marker. I could see that the car had a flat on the left rear. Now, this alone, doesn't sound so bad, until you consider what I saw, just over the next hill. About a hundred feet or so beyond the next overpass, the shoulder narrowed significantly and a couple of hundred feet beyond that, sat a stalled car, as close to the wall as he could get and still, his car extended a foot or two into the lane of traffic. That car represented a serious traffic hazard. Had the wrecker for that zone not been pre-occupied with a "forced" tow of a vehicle that was in a safe place, less than a quarter mile away, he would have been available to take care of that truly dangerous situation. I quickly exited the freeway, hoping to be able to get a photo of the "Safe Clear" wrecker driving past the more serious stall. I circled the block and parked, just in time to see the wrecker turning under the overpass. He never even saw the more serious stall. I didn't have time to wait to see if another wrecker showed up in 6 minutes. But, by the time I drove off, it had been close to 5 minutes, since I first saw that stalled car. The new changes to the Towing For Dollar$ Revenue $cam do not address this serious issue that is caused by forcing the towing of cars that are safely on the shoulder. The wreckers need to be towing cars that are blocking traffic, rather than cars that are safely on the shoulder and in no need of assistance.

Then there is the case of one of our readers, who told us of another problem. The car actually needed real repairs. This victim could have asked the policeman for a ride, but chose not to, because surprisingly, both the wrecker driver and his wrecker were more or less clean and the wrecker driver looked and spoke in a respectible manner. Had this victim known what would happen less than a mile away, things would have been much different. The wrecker driver had agreed to tow the victim home. But, once out of sight of the Transtar cameras, he quickly pulled into a parking lot, where another tow truck was waiting and the car was switched to that other tow truck. The "Safe Clear" driver gave instructions to the other driver in the only language he spoke, Spanish and promptly took off (presumably, to go find another victim). The other wrecker was old and dirty and smelled of beer and tobacco. The other wrecker driver just smelled. Considering the location, the poor victim had no choice, but to get in that wrecker for the rest of the trip. From what we have been able to determine, this is apparently not an isolated incident. But, the new changes to the Towing For Dollar$ Revenue $cam do not address this.

Then we must consider the fact that this $cam makes Houston a very tourist un-friendly city. Tourists and other travelers to Houston, have no idea that, if they leave their car to get gas or water, as they would do in any other city, their car will be gone when they return and they will face a $75 towing fee, plus a storage fee, plus an expensive taxi ride to an impound lot to recover their car. That would certainly ruin a vacation or business trip and turn travelers off of Houston, for no worse problem than an overheated engine or running out of gas.

The specification for Interstate highways calls for shoulders, to be available, for motorists to park their cars while they change tires, go for gas or water or wait for other help of their choice. Travelers expect that those shoulders will be available to them, for that purpose, wherever they go. They certainly don't expect their car, that is safely on the shoulder, to be towed in the time it takes them to walk a quarter of a mile. Most states and municipalities will not manditorily tow a vehicle that is safely on the shoulder, until it has been there for from 4 hours to 48 hours. Our Boss Hogg's 6-minute rule on shoulders is is reminicnt of the original Boss Hogg's speed trap through Hazzard County.

The Towing For Dollar$ Revenue $cam is not about safety. It's about REVENUE. If they were only towing cars that were blocking traffic, then with a few more changes, it could be made into a good program. But, Boss Hogg's insistence that wreckers immediately tow cars that are not blocking traffic, proves that safety, if considered at all, was only a secondary concern to the revenue generating potential of this $cam. They sold $1.4 million in exclusive licenses and they don't want to have to give that money back.

We urge our readers to support efforts in the state legislature, to put a permanent stop to this insanity. We're also hearing rumblings about a possible push for a recall election. Considering what this mayor has done so far (Tasers, so police can taser a naked man in the bayou, the Ca$h Cam$ Revenue $cam that has never been proven to improve safety and the Towing for Dollar$ Revenue $cam, to name just a few), we think that a recall election would probably be a good idea.


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