New bill aims to put the brakes on rogue tow truck drivers

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PHOENIX - Michael Tharp is a runner.

He parks his car in a lot on 40th St. and Camelback almost every Saturday and jogs along the Arizona Canal.

But last month, he returned from his hour-long jog to find his car had been towed.

“All of us were pretty stunned,” he said.

Michael says at the time, he didn't see the tow away zone signs.

Regardless, he believes he probably never would've been towed had it not been for something called a spotter, a person hired by towing companies to tip them off when they see someone parked illegally.

“When people park their cars and walk off the lot, then they basically report us to the towing company,” Michael said.

It's practices like these that prompted Rep. Ed Ableser of Tempe to create house bill 2462, a bill that will prevent tow truck companies from trespassing onto private property to tow.

The bill is now on Gov. Brewer's desk.

“The issue of private property trespass towers has been probably one of the biggest issues for my district, Mill Ave., Marketplace and businesses all around this area,” Rep. Ableser said.

The bill, if signed into law, would also prevent towing companies from paying businesses just to be their preferred tower.

For example, according to Rep. Ableser, towing companies invest tens of thousands of dollars a year just so they can be the official tower for a business.

But he says that investment turns into a major profit with all the cars that are towed from a parking lot.

“It's a scheme, it's a way to basically gouge the customer, the consumer who basically has no other choice,” he said.

Rep. Ableser showed 3 On Your Side one of the biggest towing hot spots in his district - Jack in the Box on Mill Ave. - where a company called Monster Towing has free rein to tow violators away.

According to Rep. Ableser, spotters here watch and wait for drivers to park and walk somewhere else, then the spotter tips off Monster Towing.

A tow truck hooks up and hauls off vehicles in a matter of seconds.

Drivers in these situations could wind up paying hundreds of dollars to get their vehicle back, something house bill 2462 aims to change by establishing a statewide towing rate.

“Tow truck companies are running rampant with no set rates, they're gouging their customers with extremely high rates and people have no other option,” Rep. Ableser said. “They need their vehicle, it's probably their most expensive material possession.”

A spokesperson for Jack in the Box tells 3 On Your Side despite Rep. Ableser's claim, it doesn't accept any money from Monster Towing.

As for Monster Towing, the owner tells 3 On Your Side his company does not condone the use of spotters, and although the practice exists in his industry, his company operates by the book.

Which brings us back to Michael, who believes the towing industry still needs to be regulated and thinks the new law will help consumers.

“I think this something where people are getting burned and I don't want people to suffer from this,” Michael said.

UPDATE:
3 On Your Side has learned Gov. Brewer has vetoed the bill so it will not become law, at least for now.

Rep. Ableser tells us he plans to modify, then re-submit the bill later this year.