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Friday, May 15, 2009

Interesting Rotation System in Ogden, UT

Here's the story from

By Tim GurristerStandard-Examiner stafftgurrister@standard.netOGDEN —
Things appear to be heating up again in the local tow truck community.Some may recall the “Towgate” controversy in 2001, when three Ogden police officers were fired for steering towing jobs to one company.The stakes are high. A tow leads to potentially $5,000 in repair work on average. Small wrecker operators today are complaining that the dispatch rotation for towing jobs has grown to favor the bigger companies. And dispatch fees are causing some drivers to pad their bills, they claim, thereby gouging motorists.Since the first of the year, the number of slots in the rotation topped 100 for the first time. Slots can be bought for $2,500 from the Ogden-Weber Towing Association. The number of slots is determined solely by request of local companies and their ability to pay.
Larger operators have 10 or more, while smaller wreckers may hold one, meaning they get called to one in every 100 or so wrecks.Weber County is the only county in the state that lets tow truck operators run their own dispatch system. Elsewhere, police dispatchers call out wreckers to accident scenes on a rotating basis.In Weber, operators at Weber Consolidated Dispatch forward tow truck requests to the association’s Central Towing Dispatch, which sends the tow truck. “The idea was perfect when it was 13, 14 companies, even five, six companies, back when my dad and a few of them started this up 30 years ago,” said Curtis Stauffer, whose family runs two wreckers, Stauffer’s and Skyhook towing. “The reason the big guy is the big guy is because they have been doing it right and for a long time,” said Brett Baur, owner of Brett’s Towing, in Ogden.“We have a lot more trucks, good equipment and experienced drivers. We get it done.”“Our goal is supposed to be get out there as quickly as you can and clear the road quickly, but you’re penalized if you do that,” said Stauffer, claiming companies, refusing to name names, intentionally dawdle at wrecks in order to charge an extra hour.
“Three-fourths of the companies operate that way,” he said, to offset the fees involved in getting and maintaining a dispatch slot. “The public gets raked over the coals. ... I’m tired of our industry getting the black eye. All these fees raise the costs to every one.”After the one-time $2,500 charge, tow truck operators pay a $10 charge per call and a flat rate $50 a month to stay on the
rotation list. That money goes to the Ogden-Weber Towing Association.“I think people are charging extra because of all the dispatch fees. They add extra time to their tow tickets because there are only so many tows in Weber County,” said Chuck Hadley, of Chuck’s Towing and Recovery. “It’s not right. When it started, it was one compnay, one slot, and you couldn’t buy ’em.”Hadley quit the towing association board eight years ago. “I could see where it was going. I still own a slot. I don’t use it because I don’t believe in what they do.” “That’s hype,” Baur said of the fee-gouging claims. “My tow bills are the same in all three counties I work in.” The Utah Department of Transportation sets the fees motorists are charged, beginning at $121 an hour depending on the size of the truck, he said. “There are some companies out there that abuse it, but we’re not all the bad guy,” Baur said.UDOT’s annual reviews of tow truck companies include
travel logs, fees, even insurance records of employees, as well as safety inspections, said a UDOT spokesman.Stauffer has two slots, while Brett’s Towing has 10 in the rotation operated around the clock by dispatchers in a Roy office.Cousin Tom Baur owns Ogden Auto Body, at the center of Towgate years ago, and has 10 or more slots. Several other local companies are said to have similar numbers.
In all, it’s estimated about 30 Weber towing companies are represented
in the 100-plus slots of wrecker dispatch overseen by the Ogden-Weber Towing Association.“Are there towers out there who are charging more? Yes. Can we regulate that? No, that’s UDOT’s job,” said Neil Schultz, association president and owner of B & R Towing in Ogden, a self-described little guy with only a handful of employees and slots.“We are not getting any complaints about the
system except for this handful,” he said. “I think it’s probably the best system in the whole country and would take more than a couple of hours to explain why. It saves the taxpayers a lot of money and doesn’t infringe on the motorists.“There’s certainly a lot more to it than what these people are saying. ... It boils down to a personal vendetta. This is what we get when someone throws a rock.”The privately run Weber system also seems to fall between the cracks as far as government regulation.UDOT licenses the towers and sets towing fees, but doesn’t oversee the fees that the associations charges members. UDOT spokesman Adan Carrillo said Weber County complaints are no higher than elsewhere around the state, which amounts to one or two complaints a month statewide. The department has one inspector assigned to wreckers for the entire state.Ogden city, where most of the towing takes place, fields complaints, a few a month, but has no licensing authority. Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner is developing a policy to give his department authority to suspend tow truck companies in the city based on complaint volumes.“It’s tough to deal with them. Where do you draw the line between free enterprise and government intervention?
But they become a quasi-extension of us (OPD) because we initiated the call for them to come out.”Greiner said towing complaints are not the biggest priority for his department but are an ongoing issue.His department gets complaints about price-gouging, he said. “Charged $100 to tow someone a block. Things like that. That’s just one of the many ways they make their money.”