Eudora resident Jen Middleton’s towing story is one Douglas County officials have heard before.
Towing cost difference
Tom Stolz with the Wichita Police Department estimated what Jen Middleton would have paid a towing company for a similar tow in Wichita:
• Towing charge: $80, compared with $275
• Mileage: $4 per mile, compared with $25 per mile
• Gate charge: $0, compared with $35
• Labor: $0, compared with $185
• Cleanup: $0, compared with $185
• Storage: $20 per day, compared with $35
• Winch charge: $0, compared with $200
• Total price: $164, compared with $1,110
Middleton’s son, Devin, 16, rear-ended a car with the family’s minivan while on his way to Eudora High School a couple of weeks back.
The van was smashed up, but no one was hurt.
Police on scene asked Middleton if she had a “preference” for which towing company hauled the van away. Middleton said no, and Douglas County dispatchers selected the next local towing company on the county’s “non-preference” towing list, which includes 10 local companies.
Middleton went to the tow lot to retrieve the van, and, to her surprise, the bill was $1,110 for the six-mile tow.
The receipt included a $125 mileage charge, a $275 towing charge, a $35 gate charge, a $185 labor charge, a $185 cleanup charge, a $200 winch charge and a $105 storage charge.
“It was an awfully simple accident tow,” said Eudora Police Chief Grady Walker, who responded to the accident. “It seems to be a little high.”
Middleton’s case underscores the lack of pricing regulations for towing companies on the county’s rotating call list for “non-preference” tows, when someone indicates they have no preference about which company to call following an accident. In July, the Journal-World highlighted the story of a Lawrence man, also involved in a simple accident, who faced a $675 charge from a local towing company called from the county’s list.
Truth is, local towing companies can charge whatever they want, and county officials say it’s not clear what they can do to stop them.
“There are people under the current system who’ve taken advantage,” said Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug, whose office was contacted this week by Middleton. Weinaug said the county receives several such complaints per month. “It’s something that needs to be fixed.”
But it’s a complicated issue, said Weinaug, citing a 1995 federal Motor Carrier Act that prohibits governments from putting limits on towing charges.
The city of Wichita, however, has found a creative solution after years of similar complaints, said Tom Stolz, deputy chief of investigations for the Wichita Police Department.
The answer? The free market.
Starting this year, Wichita police have required towing companies, as part of a city contract, to supply police with a cost sheet listing what the company charges for nonpreference accident tows.
When someone’s in an accident, police hand them a list, and the person chooses. The police aren’t regulating or capping the prices, just educating consumers, Stolz said.
“You let free enterprise go to work,” Stolz said. “Give consumers power. The free market will always win.”
Weinaug said the county will be looking at Wichita’s ordinance, as well as others, in attempt to cut down on overcharging, and he hopes to have the issue on the County Commission’s April 24 discussion agenda.
“I’m certain there’s a local solution,” Weinaug said.