By Kevin Werner, METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton is putting the clamps on tow truck owners who operate within the city.
Members of the planning committee approved a licensing fee recommendation from staff that will slap a $491 per vehicle fee on every vehicle, and a $118 fee on drivers who operate in the municipality.
“This bylaw will assist us,” said Hamilton Police Services deputy-chief Ken Leendertse. “It will provide more control, and prevent fraud.”
Politicians were scheduled to vote on the new bylaw at their May 23 council meeting.
Police and city staff have been examining ways for a few years to curtail tow truck operators who take advantage of people who have been in vehicle accidents.
A municipal bylaw to licence tow trucks – the first ever in the province – has been in the works for about 16 months. City staff compared the process of licensing tow trucks to licensing taxis. The city charges taxis $461 per vehicle, and $75 per person.
City staff say the tow truck operator convinces a person to hook up their damaged vehicle, then they take it to an auto body shop where allegedly an illegal payoff takes place. The auto body shop owner then charges the victim exorbitant fees to recoup the expenses.
“It’s a lucrative business,” said Leendertse, adding there are ongoing investigations into the industry.
He said police receive about one complaint a week about unscrupulous tow truck operators who overcharge people. A bill of $1,000 or more is not uncommon, he said.
Hamilton councillors have already approved a bylaw for police to charge tow truck “chasers,” but so far no charges have been laid.
“This (bylaw) will give police more powers,” said Bill Young, manager of municipal law enforcement.
But Gail Daley, owner of A-1 Towing, condemned the bylaw which will force her to spend more money on licence fees.
“I feel I am overcharged already,” said Daley, who operates 10 trucks. “These are not little taxes. These are big taxes.”
She urged the police and city bylaw officials to enforce laws that are already in place to combat illegal tow truck operators.
Leendertse said the police in the last eight weeks have laid four charges against drivers. The drivers and companies pay the fines, chalking it up to “the cost of doing business,” he said.
John Norris, executive director of the Hamilton District Automotive Repair Association, applauded the new bylaw, urging the city to adopt it.
But he also urged the city and police to enforce the rules that are in place.
“Surely we can have two agencies to make it a priority to enforce (the rules),” said Norris.
Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge encouraged the city to do something about the tow truck drivers who park near highway ramps, such as along Hwy. 6 and the 403, waiting for a distressed motorist, so they can pounce.
“There are two or three tow trucks on the side of the ramps of Hwy. 6,” she said. “They make their own parking space there.”
Young said it’s up to the Transportation Ministry and the OPP to do something about those vehicles since it is their jurisdiction.