Big business greed: Vermont needs to crack down on predatory towing
May 1, 2023
For new residents of Burlington, getting your car towed is a right of passage, especially for UVM students trying to find places to park on and around campus.
The unfortunate reality is that predatory towing needs to be dealt with by legislators in Vermont.
Vermont ranks in the bottom five states when it comes to consumer protections related to towing, according to a May 4, 2021 report by the United States Public Interest Research Group. This report outlines the consumer protections and towing regulations that each state has on the books.
Some states like Colorado ban tow routes, meaning that Colorado tow companies can’t drive around private parking lots looking to tow cars in violation. Other states have price caps on fees companies can charge to release an impounded vehicle according to U.S. PIRG.
The only Vermont regulation is that the owner must be notified after their vehicle is towed. But even that can prove challenging according to Jeff Padgett, spokesperson for Burlington Public Works.
Vermont is even categorized as having “predatory” towing practices according to a May 18, 2021 UVM Vermont Legislative Research Service report.
“Predatory towing can result in towing companies charging large and unexpected fees in addition to the state regulated towing fees,” according to the report. This report mentioned the Colorado rules and regulations as well.
Earlier this year, Vermont State Representative Barbara Rachelson introduced a bill to crack down on towing companies in Vermont.
One of Rachelson’s interns, junior Jack Pitblado, shared with me dozens of complaints from residents around Burlington about being swindled out of hundreds of dollars by local towing companies.
Some people even lost their vehicles because they couldn’t keep up with the daily storage fee. After 30 days of the vehicle being impounded, the tow company can obtain the title to the vehicle and sell it off for profit.
Capping prices on storage fees is also a key part of Rachelson’s bill.
High prices with no regulation hurt every Burlington resident, but especially its most vulnerable citizens, according to Pitblado.
Costs can be as high as $95 for a first time tow, according to the Burlington Public Works website. Add on the $20-per-day storage fee and the cost skyrockets.
Daily storage fees are unfair to everyone, especially people in tough financial spots. If someone’s primary mode of transportation is their car, it can be even more difficult to find their way to the lot to retrieve their vehicle.
For some people, they may even have to miss work in search of their vehicle after a tow. Burlington resident Amelia Jones experienced this situation.
One night, before Jones moved to Burlington, she was visiting her boyfriend in the Old North End and didn’t realize there was a citywide parking ban. The next morning, her car was gone.
Unable to make it back to Massachusetts, Jones called out of work and went on the hunt for her little black Lexus.
After calling the police, Burlington Public Works and the towing company, Jones was finally told her car had been dropped in Oakledge Park.
After getting a ride to Oakledge Park, she was surprised to see her car wasn’t there.
Jones contacted Public Works again to try to get to the bottom of where her car might be. An exasperated Public Works employee confidently escorted her down to Oakledge Park where he too couldn’t find the car.
After doing some digging, the Public Works employee figured out the car was sitting in the waterfront skatepark parking lot. After days of searching. Jones finally had her car back and was able to return home and go to work.
“The city may think they have a good system, but it leaves some room for improvement,” Jones said.
Current towing legislation and practices must be changed.
Vermont needs to crack down on predatory towing to save residents, students and visitors money. Towing companies have lobbyists and city contracts, while citizens are left with empty pockets. It’s time to regulate towing in Vermont.