Several tow truck drivers employed by George Smith Towing Inc. huddled together for two hours on Thursday, waiting for Philadelphia Police in the parking lot on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street, so they could tow illegally parked cars.
The empty and unhitched tow trucks were lined up, ready to tow. But due to a citywide regulation that started on Wednesday, they needed to wait until the vehicles were ticketed for illegal parking.
The regulation prohibits tow truck operators from removing an illegally parked vehicle from privately owned parking lots or driveways without Philadelphia Police, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, university police or SEPTA ticketing the vehicle first.
Philadelphia councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, a Democrat, introduced the bill last November to reform towing practices.
The previous policy, which forced tow truck operators to take photos of an illegally parked vehicle before it is towed, did not provide enough protection for the public, according to a towing reform document from Quiñones-Sánchez.
“Comprehensive towing reform will help ensure that all Philadelphians are protected from predatory practices and that business on our city streets is conducted legally,” Quiñones-Sánchez said in a statement last month after Mayor Jim Kenney signed the law.
Towing companies in the city are concerned about the efficiency of the law and its impact.
Lewis Blum, owner of Lew Blum Towing, said the law will have more of an impact on property owners and management companies that hire towing companies for their private driveways and parking lots.
Ticketing vehicles is going to increase the wait time for these private property owners after they report a car parked illegally to their towing company, he added.
“[Property owners] don’t want to be waiting around 45 minutes to an hour for a police officer to put a ticket on the vehicle,” Blum said. “You could call your towing company to be there in 20 minutes to tow the vehicle out of the way.”
Councilman David Oh, a Republican who voted against the law in council, told The Temple News that the law is “overly broad” and not effective.
“We have a large city,” Oh said. “Things like calling for a police officer to come out and write a ticket, so a car can be towed is probably on the bottom of the list.”
Oh added he believes that since it will take the police a long time to ticket a car, people who are aware of the new law will be encouraged to park illegally.
“If they thought that it would take three or four hours for a police officer to come out and write a ticket, they might be encouraged to park illegally for a little bit,” he said.
“We’re all getting used to the law,” said a George Smith Towing Inc. truck driver. He could not give his name due to the company’s policy prohibiting employees from speaking to reporters. “Hopefully, down the road, or in a week or two, it will get better.”
In November, PhillyVoice reported that City Council had received an influx of complaints of illegal towing, which sparked the push for legislative reform.
Oh said the reform should punish the specific towing companies that break the laws, rather than hurt the entire industry.
“We’re putting private people out of business, people who have invested in tow trucks,” he said. “This city really needs as many opportunities for people to earn a living and start a business as possible.”
Kelly Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_kellybrennan.