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Tow truck operators band together, call for price regulation


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When it comes to small businesses, the usual cry is one against regulation.


But for one band of Ottawa tow truck operators, regulation is exactly what they say they need.


A group of operators is looking to form a professional association for towing in Ottawa and is calling on the city to further regulate the industry, with fixed pricing and licensing operators. About 15 companies, including Jonny’s Towing, Rescue Towing Services and Express Towing, have signed on to form an  association.


Some drivers had called for regulation in 2015, although the city kept its hands off the issue at the time. But one driver says he hopes another push will do the trick in light of a tougher business climate he says stems from a police crackdown on accident-chasers and a tendency to favour a contracted company for tows at crash scenes.


George Mrad, owner of Preferred Towing and Recovery, said his livelihood depends on making a change. In recent months, he says, he’s gone from having 15 20 customers per month to only a handful. He’s hoping his ideas will help salvage what he calls a “free-for-all” that’s “gone to hell.”


The towing group, which is spearheaded by Mrad, wants Ottawa city council to pass a bylaw that would introduce uniform towing prices, modelled after Toronto’s fixed $250 flat rate for basic service. He said this would change the industry in Ottawa as wary insurers would no longer have a reason to blacklist certain towing companies for overcharging, thus opening up the market to more competition. 

Companies wouldn’t be able to compete on price, meaning they’d have to attract business with service and by virtue of being the first to a scene.


“First-come, first-served,” he said. “Pick one and go, because it’s going to be the exact same as every other (service) that you’re going to use.”


He said it would benefit drivers because they’d be able to compete for run-of-the-mill collisions. Mrad described himself as a chaser and said most drivers like him make their keep by waiting for crashes and then racing toward one to try to sell their services to one of the victims. 

“It’s part of the job. Every company chases,” he said.


His proposals wouldn’t lessen the chasing phenomena, but he said chasers wouldn’t need to speed or drive recklessly to get to collisions anymore because they’d know they can get the next one. 


“The easier you make it for us to do our business, the better it is for everybody,” he said. The proposal would benefit the public, too, he said, because collisions would be cleared more quickly and with fewer headaches.


The group also proposes to license each tow truck, similar to what the city does for taxis. The City of Toronto and some other municipalities in the GTA license tow trucks.


Mrad and some other tow truck drivers met with Stittsville Coun. Shad Qadri on March 23 to discuss the issue. In the past, Qadri has been vocal on the issues surrounding unregulated tow trucks.


Qadri said he was not ready to commit to any of the drivers’ proposals but directed them to Anthony Di Monte, the city’s head of emergency and protective services.


On the question of licensing tow trucks, Qadri said that idea likely will have to wait until after the municipal election this October.

“That’s something that would have to be determined at the next term of council,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad idea … but I know that Mississauga does it.”


The province is the main regulator for tow trucks. In 2014, Queen’s Park changed the Consumer Protection Act to introduce more transparency over towing rates, as well as to force companies to disclose where they will tow a vehicle, whether they receive kickbacks from body shops and also to provide an itemized invoice with total cost. The amended law also required that tow trucks accept credit cards, instead of only cash.


The city’s only regulation for tow trucks is a bylaw that requires they stay at least 100 metres from a crash scene unless they were called to help. The penalty is a $160-$190 fine, which the city recently applied to increase. Police wrote 148 tickets for offences under this bylaw in 2017.


Mrad said his group is looking to meet with councillors on the Ottawa Police Services Board and with police and bylaw officials directly to discuss his proposed regulations.


Diane Deans, chair of the community and protective services committee, which oversees bylaw, was not available for comment. Neither was Roger Chapman, chief of Ottawa’s bylaw services, although he previously said in a report on March 22 a wider regulatory framework in Ottawa was not necessary.



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