- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

New regulations to reform the District's towing industry are closer to becoming reality now that the D.C. Council has given Mayor Anthony A. Williams the power to draft them.
Mr. Williams vowed to take action last year after the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox uncovered a scheme in which police officers and towing companies conspired to illegally confiscate cars and charge victims exorbitant storage fees.
The Washington Times first reported on the inspector general's findings in August. Two victims of the scheme have since filed a class-action lawsuit against the Metropolitan D.C. Police Department and seven licensed towing companies.
The mayor's office has indicated that legal problems prevented him from drafting the new regulations last fall. Some city leaders said giving the mayor the power to regulate the industry is a key step toward requiring licenses and standardized towing rates.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to give Mr. Williams, a Democrat, control over the new regulations. "The council did exactly what we needed them to do," said the mayor's chief spokesman, Tony Bullock. "We're ready to go forward with the regulations. This should have been done 20 years ago."
Council member Carol Schwartz, who sponsored the bill, made sure that council still has the right to block any regulations it disapproves. "The mayor has been given the authority to give the new regulations to the council for review," said Mrs. Schwartz, at-large Republican. "If the regulations called for extraordinarily high towing fees, I wanted to reserve the right to weigh in on those."
Presently in the District, there are no stipulations requiring companies that tow vehicles at the request of D.C. police or the Department of Public Works (DPW) to be licensed.
There also is no limit on the amount a tow company can charge a motorist whose car has been impounded, even if that motorist was not notified until weeks after the car has been towed.
Mr. Bullock says future towing regulations that will be considered by the council within the next two weeks will require tow-truck drivers in the District to obtain special licenses and will put a cap on the amount towing operations can charge motorists.
"The council and the mayor want to get these regulations into effect as soon as possible," Mr. Bullock said. "There's no doubt that this is an industry that has cried out for government regulation.
"We have an obligation to protect the citizens and visitors to the District from unscrupulous towing operators," he said. "This will have a measurable and beneficial effect. There will now be consequences for bad behavior. These are revocable licenses."
Some residents yesterday were skeptical about the plans for new regulations.
Angelina Wyckoff, who during the early 1980s won $2,000 from D.C. police in Small-Claims Court after never being notified that her two cars had been towed and junked, said she doubts the new regulations will make a difference.
"This has been an ongoing problem in this city," said Miss Wyckoff, a 22-year resident of the District. "I don't think regulating this or that is necessarily going to resolve the city's towing problems."
Mr. Bullock said the new regulations also will call for the establishment of a towing center and computer system to be run within the DPW.
The goal is to set up a roster of towing operators who will pick up cars at the request of city agencies and report the license-plate numbers back to the center so they can be made available to drivers who call in to find their missing vehicles.
People should be able to determine very quickly within five or six hours if their car has been towed and where it was towed, so they can go get it, Mr. Bullock said.
"To get the whole process up to the level that's envisioned within these new regulations is going to take a bit of time," he said. "The first step is to get the new regulations approved and in effect."

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