OCEAN CITY—Tow truck drivers believe that the town of Ocean City should check their numbers and price points before they start saying the word ‘franchise’ and ‘towing industry’ in the same sentence.
As a result, the town might be looking seriously at other options including some of the alternatives the towing industry brought to the table on Tuesday.
Dozens of angry tow truck drivers quietly sat in the council chambers at City Hall until their agenda item was called three hours into the meeting, and when their item was called upon, they all literally moved to the edge of their seats as the first of more than likely many spirited conversations between the towing industry and the Mayor and City Council began.
With the town’s recently proclaimed successful franchising of the taxi industry under their belts, Ocean City officials were looking to franchise the town’s 900-plus annual police tows to a single franchiser within the local towing industry in order to cut operational and personnel costs at the town’s impound lot.
Perhaps due to the very competitive and often unfriendly relationships inside the towing industry, there were many in attendance that believed that granting a lone franchise for police tows would essentially give one company too much power, and could put others out of business.
“We are all passionate about what we do in the towing industry, but we want things to stay the way that they are, and believe me, we’ve all talked,” said Berlin-based John’s Auto Body owner John Derrickson. “I’m not just some dumb tow truck driver that’s hear to complain about changes. I’m here for your help and to help, because I feel like this will basically whack all of our fingers off.”
Currently, the town’s police department rotates down a list of tow companies when there is a police tow call. Derrickson believes that this creates a level playing field for the industry and gives everyone a “piece of the pie.” He argued, however, that companies would essentially be left out of the rotation, more than likely based on bad blood amongst certain towing industry professionals, if one company was granted full rights to the town’s police tows.
“The one thing that became very clear to me the other day is that the towing industry is not one big happy family,” said councilman Doug Cymek. “I think that if it went to one privately-owned franchise, there would most certainly be people who would be cut out of the equation, and I can understand that they are afraid of that for their livelihoods. On the other side of the coin though, we are trying to reduce or eliminate $154,000 of deficit from the impound lot.”
Mark Anderson, who owns the 52nd Street Exxon station in Ocean City said that the change was too short of notice and hoped that the council would consider pushing back any major changes to the industry until at least the fall.
“This could turn into a total nightmare,” said Anderson. “We all have trucks out on the roads in the summer and it’s still not enough. To change this right before the season is messing with our livelihoods. We are the ones out there on the streets and we have always worked with the town in unison.”
When it comes down to it, however, any decision or change is going to be based on numbers and the one that the city was hanging its argument on is the fact that the town’s impound lot is running at a six figure annual deficit. However, those in the towing industry pointed out a few numbers of their own that showed that perhaps Ocean City was undercharging for the service.
“I would be fine if you raised our licensing fees a few hundred dollars, just don’t do this franchise move, please,” pleaded Derrickson. “The other thing you need to look at too is that your storage fees at your impound lot are far lower than what everyone else in the area charges.”
Throughout the room, towing professionals cited that $50 was the average market price for a daily storage fee for an impounded vehicle. In comparison, the town of Ocean City charges $10 the first day and $15 for each day thereafter.
Within the new proposal, however, the police commission had recommended that the storage fees be raised to $20 the first day and $25 for each day thereafter, but even that pales in comparison to the market price according to those in the towing industry.
Mayor Rick Meehan argued that the summertime visitors to the resort needed to be taken into consideration.
“We aren’t going to make an unsubstantiated decision on this matter, and we do want the input of those in the industry,” he said, “but we don’t want to gouge the visitors who come to Ocean City either. We know that if someone gets their car towed they obviously did something wrong, but anytime you are in a place that isn’t your home, and you get your car towed, you want the situation to be as pleasurably unfavorable as possible.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic promised on Tuesday that no final decision would be made without the towing industry’s input, but he did mirror the Mayor’s thoughts later in the week.
“Every point that they made on Tuesday was very valid and there’s a lot of other options that we might be able to do here,” he said. “But we don’t want to keep raising rates for the visitors who come to Ocean City. The worst thing when you’re on vacation is to get towed, and the second worse thing is for that to cost you a ton of money.”