Oct 122010
 
Authors: Ian Bezek

You’ve just had a wonderfully relaxing time drinking coffee and catching up with a close friend, who is visiting Fort Collins from out of state.

Suddenly your respite is shattered as you walk outside and discover that your friend’s car has disappeared. In that car, you had your laptop, several textbooks and all your class notes for the entire semester.

This is how I spent my more-exciting-than-anticipated Sunday evening this past weekend.
We frantically left the coffee shop and paced the parking lot where his car had been, trying to figure out what could have happened. We concluded that the car had been stolen and contemplated what to do.

Should we call 911, the police, his parents or what?

Finally, after 10 minutes of frantic confusion, we saw a small, dimly lit sign in the corner of the lot, far away from either the entrance or where my friend had parked, warning that the lot was for employees only.

We finally realized that his car had been towed. Several hours and more than $250 later, my friend finally was able to reclaim possession of his car. He’d been stung by a racket.
While he had been legally towed, in a rational legal system, what happened would never have occurred.

My friend parked at approximately 8 p.m. on a Sunday night in a lot that is equidistant from the coffee shop we went to and another business that was already closed for the day.

We went out to the deck of the coffee shop within 30 minutes of arriving at the coffee shop, and we would certainly have heard a tow truck arriving had it done so. This means that his car had to have been towed before 8:30, within 30 minutes of parking there.

Why would a private property owner be so eager to tow his car from a lot when his business was closed? And why wouldn’t whoever was so eager to have my friend’s car moved try asking people in the coffee shop to move their cars before calling a towing company?

If the private property owner really cared so much about people parking in his lot, why wouldn’t he simply put up a visible sign in the entrance to the lot warning people to keep out?

The answer is that the lot owner, I think, in fact wanted my friend to park in his lot. And he wanted us to get towed. Why? Because, I’m guessing, he gets a kickback from the towing company for generating business for them.

You see, in Colorado, a normal bill to get towed is roughly $60. But should you happen to be towed involuntarily, the towing company can charge you more than four times that amount.

According to the Colorado’s official towing regulations, a towing carrier may charge up to $154 for a so-called “non-consensual” tow of a vehicle along with other miscellaneous fees that added up to more than $250 for my friend.

This creates a perverse incentive for private property owners and towing companies to collaborate.
The towing company gets as much from one non-consensual tow as four legitimate ones. Of course towing companies will work with parking lot owners to drum up as much business as possible.

There’s no logical reason late on a quiet Sunday night to be towing people’s cars off at lightning speed except to generate outsized profits ripping off hapless drivers.

Colorado law should be changed so that “non-consensual” tows cost no more than regular ones.
There’s no reason to create a system that creates economic incentives for people to go around towing each other’s cars. It’s a waste of people’s time and money.

Instead, a logical system of dealing with illegal parking would involve clearing marking parking lots as private property and requesting patrons at the coffee shop literally within earshot of the
parking lot to move their cars.

While private property owners have every right to get people to move their cars, they shouldn’t be given a legal loophole through which to make profits.

Current Colorado law encourages private property owners and towing companies to work together to fleece as many people as possible. This is a non-sensical law that should be changed.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:14 pm

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