Landers: A relatively easy fix available for city towing mess

March 07, 2011

It is clear from the facts revealed by the federal corruption investigation into kickbacks related to Baltimore towing operations that the present system is broken and needs to be fixed. In place of the current medallion system, which arbitrarily limits competition and creates an environment that breeds corruption, the city should have a system that is open to any company that can document that it meets certain equipment and operational standards and can post a performance bond or meet certain liability insurance coverage limits.

Baltimore should establish clear standards and collect a fee from the companies applying to be authorized towers. The city should not set the base prices or mileage fees that companies charge, but the company should be required to disclose those fees and how they will be calculated. The companies would then be free to charge whatever fee they deem appropriate, provided that the fee is publicly listed.

At the scene of an accident or a disabled vehicle, the police officers should have a preprinted list of all of the companies that meet the established standards and lists the fees that the company will charge for a tow. The list would be presented to the vehicle owner, together with a disclosure signed by the owner or driver acknowledging the fact that the list was supplied and verifying that the responding police officer made no attempt to steer the owner or driver to a specific company.

The list could be published in the newspaper and be made available on line. Opening up the system and requiring that fees be published would help reduce towing fees by injecting competition into the system, which would go a long way toward correcting the inefficiencies inherent in the type of closed system that currently exists.

Fixing this problem is easy. Overcoming the cozy relationship that the medallion companies have with city officials is tough.

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, Baltimore

The writer is a former city councilman and is considering a campaign for mayor.

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