OCEAN CITY — Towing rates in Ocean City, which have remained unchanged for eight years, could be going up next year if a unified group of industry leaders in the area gets their way.
About a dozen unified tow company operators in the resort area urged the Police Commission Monday to consider their request for a hike in the rate schedule for tows in the resort area. The town’s code currently sets the maximum rate for a standard tow at $150, a figure that has been in place since 2008, but the tow company operators are seeking a graduated, across-the-board hike by as much as 100 percent in some cases.
The tow company operators cited an increase in their fixed costs over the last eight years or so, along with other changes in the market, as the reason for the proposed tow rate increase. For example, while the town code sets the maximum for a standard tow at $150, the tow operators are seeking an increase to $250 for a standard tow, $285 for a DWI tow and as much as $325 for a more complicated accident tow.
They are also seeking an increase in the standard rate for the storage of a towed vehicle. Currently, the code calls for a storage fee of $10 for the first day and $15 for each additional day, but the request change could see that figure increased to $60 to $70 per day, depending on whether the towed vehicle is stored inside or outside, for example.
John Derrickson of John’s Auto Body, who was the de facto spokesperson for the group, said the current fees were set in 2008 and have not been revisited since. He spoke on Monday on behalf of about a dozen other tow company owners.
“We’re all unified,” he said. “We got together and came up with a plan. The cost of living is up, our fixed costs are up and everything goes up. These fees haven’t been adjusted since 2008.”
Naturally, there are a variety of different towing scenarios, from a simple grab-and-go of a disabled vehicle or a vehicle illegally parked on a red curb or in front of a dumpster, for example, to DWI tows often in the middle of the night to more complicated accident tows that might require more than one tow truck or other types of equipment.
On top of the fixed costs are the costs of maintaining and inspecting the tow trucks themselves. Derrickson said inspection and maintenance costs continue to go up, but did not disparage the process.
“We spend $500 a week to make sure we’re safe,” he said. “We want to be safe and we’re not complaining, but that’s just another cost that has to be figured in. If we show up and the tow is cancelled, we still have to pay the driver and still have those fixed costs like fuel prices.”
Derrickson said the tow company operators in the room had a solid reputation for being fair with the rates, while some others not included in the group did not.
“We can’t rip people off and we don’t,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. There are some that are causing problems, though. One guy had a car for about an hour and it was $700.”
Derrickson said without an increase in the current tow rates allowed in Ocean City’s code, it could be tough to stay in business.
“If we’re maxed at $150, we might as well close our doors,” he said. “Our fixed costs are over $150. DWI tows are painful. They’re labor intensive and they’re generally early in the morning, so we have to get somebody up and out. The police have to deal with them, but we have to deal with them about an hour later.”
Police Commission members, including Councilman Doug Cymek, who serves as chair, along with Mayor Rick Meehan and Councilmen Dennis Dare and Lloyd Martin, promised to take the request under advisement and do the requisite homework before making a recommendation to the full council.
“I think it’s a fair request,” said Meehan. “Let us digest some of this and do a little homework, and we’ll revisit this and get back to you. Let’s get a list of rates from the county and Berlin and other jurisdictions. I think we need to have all the numbers.”
Derrickson pointed out Ocean City is the only jurisdiction with a section on towing rates in its code. He said the rules are different in the county at-large.
“Ocean City is the only jurisdiction with a regulation,” he said. “Berlin doesn’t have a rate sheet, the Maryland State Police doesn’t have a rate sheet and the sheriff’s office doesn’t have a rate sheet. It’s a free market out there and it relies on the honor system.”
Cymek said on Wednesday he and other Police Commission members had already started doing some research on the proposed rate hike and were finding, like most businesses, the market was determining the prices.
“What I’m finding out is basically whatever the market will bear is what they’re charging,” he said. “Some jurisdictions actually collect the fee and process and then distribute to the appropriate tow companies.”