TBT Towing lives!

A follow-up to the story that began here almost two years ago:

TBT Towing gets to stay in business for now, though they will have to pay financial penalties. They lost their towing license, but the revocation has been stayed unless they are caught in violation of the law again. Apparently TBT hasn’t generated any complaints to the DoL in over a year, and this had something to do with the leniency granted them. (This is interesting, since the thread generated by last year’s post contains quite a few complaints by folks who were towed by TBT more recently, including this comment by someone who says she contacted the DoL to file a complaint. It makes you wonder.)

Stadium parking scams, etc.

This P-I article about parking scams in the stadium area is primarily about folks trying to charge guests money to park in public (that is, free) parking spots, but there are a couple of mentions of our old friends TBT Towing as well. Apparently there are a lot of TBT signs posted in areas in which they have no legal right to tow, such as city property. “The (towing) operators deny putting up the signs, instead blaming property owners, who then point back to the towing companies.”

It’s definitely kind of a mess down there. As I live in the area and frequently drive through before game time, I can confirm this. I’ve seen people trying to sell on-street parking spaces before, and there are a lot of signs posted by businesses to intimidate people from parking in legal city spaces.

More on Seattle towing issues can be found in our towing category page.

Goodbye to boots and patrol towing

The “predatory towing post” from last year continues to get a lot of responses; meanwhile, booting cars is finally illegal in Washington state, even by pay lot owners. And the predatory towing issue, as the comments on the earlier post make apparent, has gone national. Federal legislation will make it easier for states to regulate towing companies that “patrol tow”. (Patrol towing is already illegal in Washington, but the possibility existed that this law could be challenged on the basis that states could not regulate towers as they are “interstate carriers”; the new federal law closes that loophole.)

TBT Towing to pay driver $326 for illegal tow

The TBT saga continues: Yesterday, Steve Ulene was awarded $326 from the towing company in small claims court. In this case, the Starbucks employee who “signed” the towing authorization was apparently not even working the night Ulene’s car was towed from the Starbucks lot on Olive Way.

TBT owner Rick Woodrow said Ulene’s file was lost, so TBT could not refute his claim.

For more on TBT and various towing issues, see the towing category here on Slumberland. Make sure you read the comments — some of those threads have a lot of them.

No more patrol towing

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that states can outlaw patrol towing. This was specifically about a case in California, but it should affect us here in Washington, since we have a similar pending case involving the same company.

West Coast Towing was told to stop patrol towing by Washington State regulators, so they moved on to “clamping” or “booting” cars instead. Oops, that’s illegal here too. So they lost their towing license. Sucks to be them.

TBT Towing was also investigated on the same charge of patrol towing, and they may possibly lose their license as well. See previous posts about this topic here, here, and here. (That first one is the big one — 48 replies and counting!)

Catching the towing company in the act

Tian saw a tow truck operator probably damage a vehicle today. He took pictures with his cell phone, and the truck driver wasn’t too happy with this. Then he posted them on his blog, and was soon graced with the presence of someone called “Owner of company” who is threatening legal action.

I find this amusing because when I posted something about a local towing company last year, that company’s owner also showed up here to reply. (To his credit, he didn’t threaten to sue, and seems willing to enter a dialog with people. ) Apparently, replying to weblog posts is just part of the towing company owner’s job! (Actually, I think that the guy who posted on Tian’s site is probably not the real owner, anyway — just someone trying to mess with him. )

WA State to West Coast Towing: Get Lost

A follow-up to my post about “predatory towing” from last year: According to the Seattle Times, the state has revoked the towing license of John Tillison, the owner of West Coast Towing. Those who have followed the towing follies posts here over the last year might remember that West Coast was accused of illegal “patrol towing,” and also of moving legally parked cars into illegal spots so they could then claim the right to tow them.

According to this Times story, when Tillison was told to stop patrol towing, he started “booting” cars instead to extort money from the owners. Same result as before, without an actual “tow.” Booting on private property, as it turns out, is illegal.

So now West Coast was evicted by their landlord, Tillison has lost his towing license for 10 years, and he’s also been fined. Sounds like a victory for the good guys, as far as I’m concerned.

TBT apparently forged towing authorization

As alleged in this comment earlier this week, a state investigator has found that TBT Towing towed a vehicle from the Starbucks lot on East Olive Way, using a barista’s forged signature to authorize the action.

Note this excerpt:

“Woodrow [Rick Woodrow, the General Manager of TBT] said some of his drivers are paid on commission and it’s impossible to track what each driver does every day.”

Commission? Talk about a conflict of interest. I cannot see any reason why a towing company should pay by commission. I suggest that an excellent way to cut down on some of these unethical activities might be to forbid commission payments to tow drivers. It won’t solve the entire problem but it would help a bit.

Not to mention the bit about “it’s impossible to track what each driver does every day.” Maybe, but it seems that it might be in TBT’s best interest to try a bit harder. Is it the company-wide attitude to wink and nod at these transgressions?

No sympathy for the tow trucks

Following up the recent towing saga discussed here: it seems that West Coast Towing has been trying an end-run around state law that prohibits certain predatory towing practices (in their case, impounding cars without getting an express authorization for each tow), by claiming that federal law that deregulates the trucking industry prevents the state from regulating towers. (Towists? Towsters? Towistas?)

But it gets uglier: a former employee claims that West Coast, among other questionable actions, actually moved legally parked cars into illegal positions in order to tow them. Towing industry representatives point out that when towing companies make the decision whether a vehicle should be towed, it’s a huge conflict of interest, but TBT Towing GM Rick Woodrow, who recently made a couple of appearances in these pages, is quoted as saying “Probably every tower is rooting for West Coast.” (As one of my friends said after reading this: Rick, when are you going to hire a publicist? Because quotes like that are not helping your cause.)

Yesterday, striking a blow for the good guys, a U.S. District Judge rejected West Coast’s attempt to overturn a cease-and-desist order that blocks them from the “blanket authorization” tows. West Coast owner John Tillison claims to be suffering from “a tremendous loss of reputation and goodwill.” I wonder why he blames the state and media, but not his own company’s illegal actions?

Boycott businesses that support predatory towing

I frequently visit the Olive Way Starbucks, right across the street from not one but two of the apartment buildings I lived in during my misspent youth (back then, the Starbucks building contained a Red Robin). When I am at Starbucks, usually studying, I’m always there until closing time—but I usually manage to get out the door right before midnight, because I hate to keep the employees there late. Apparently this tendency has saved me from the predatory practices of TBT Towing, who service the Starbucks parking lot.

Apparently, TBT line up tow trucks there right before closing. At midnight, since the store is no longer open, no one is technically a “customer” any longer, and so TBT starts towing. To the tune of $280 for each car. Of course, Starbucks in general are pretty slack about kicking people out right at closing time (in my experience, anyway), so people have come out of the store a few minutes after 12 to find their cars missing, and TBT laughing all the way to the bank.

Starbucks claims they don’t approve, and I tend to believe them, because there is no way that authorizing this is in their interest. Bad PR for sure, and after closing, there is no need to rush to clear that parking lot. (The real problem there is that during the hours the store is open, the lot is often full, and on-street parking in that neighborhood is a rara avis indeed.)

The real infuriating thing about this article, though, is the “nyah nyah nyah” attitude of the towing representatives quoted, from TBT and from West Coast Towing. Predatory “patrol towing” is against Washington state law, but the companies claim that they can do it anyway and they are going to keep doing it.

From now on I am going to look at the signs in parking lots to see which tow companies the lots’ owners have contracted with. If I see TBT or West Coast, I will avoid giving the merchants my business, and I will tell them why. I hope you will do the same.

(I had this article saved all day yesterday to blog about and never got around to it. Better late than never, I say.)