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Should city tow companies be allowed to increase their fees?
HOW MANY ways can Fredericksburg come up with to discourage downtown visitors? Here's one more: Double the allowable "trespass" towing charge.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 7-0 to consider letting towing companies charge the maximum allowed by state law--$125--for hooking up to a vehicle parked illegally on private property and hauling it away. Storing fees for towed vehicles could be more than doubled, to $50 per 24-hour day. In asking for the hikes, the towers cited increased costs for insurance, fuel, rent, and the like. One complained that on a $65 tow he earned just $5 profit.
No doubt towers' costs have jumped in the nine years since the council last looked at fees. Yet more than 1,800 cars got the hook in the city last year--were those charity cases? Did the towers haul them off out of Christian kindness? Or might there yet be profit at $65 a tow?
Property owners have a right to enforce parking rules, but the sad stories from all over the state of Virginians victimized by mercenary towing outfits are legion--from those whose cars were taken because their inspections had expired to folks who were simply parked temporarily as they loaded or unloaded personal goods. Radically upping allowable fees would spur towers to even greater zealotry.
Then there are the out-of-towners who come to Fredericksburg for a nice meal or an evening of music. They may look at the empty lot of a clearly closed store and sensibly conclude that parking there wouldn't hurt anything. Commendably, the council is trying to make sure that signage in such areas is present and clear. But, honestly, would it hurt for everyone--businesses, too--to be a little more forgiving?
Fredericksburg Police Officer Jamie Walker says the three main locations for trespass towing are Eagle Village, Fall Hill Apartments, and Forest Village--areas populated by people who are probably less able than many to absorb hundreds of dollars in towing fees. Is it socially just to jack up these fees during a recession? Yes, people shouldn't park illegally. But to err is human. Should it also be financially devastating?
The City Council, which will take a final look at this issue July 24, should hesitate before steeply hiking permissible towing fees. Alienating visitors and adding to locals' economic burdens mock the notion of a friendly Fredericksburg.