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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

Plan to raise towing fees put off until next year

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Parking scofflaws yesterday received a stay from proposed higher towing fees after the City Council decided to wait until the state Legislature meets in 2007 to act on the measure.

Under the proposal, tow fees for abandoned cars, vehicles with expired license plates and illegally parked cars would have increased from 16 percent to 67 percent, depending on the services performed.

The full council yesterday voted to send the measure back to a committee for review, and the next step is for City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi to set up a joint hearing with state lawmakers after the session opens in January, Kobayashi said.

The state is involved because the measure would have transferred the responsibility for setting towing fees on O'ahu to the city from the state, which previously set the rates through legislative action.

Representatives of tow companies at a public hearing yesterday said the fee increases are necessary.

"No one wants to pay a tow bill," said Barney Robinson, owner of Wai'alae Tow Service. "The work we do is necessary to keep the highways and byways clear. We, in the industry believe it's a reasonable rate to move a car in a safe way."

Kailua resident John Hackney, however, said taxpayers do not have an endless supply of cash to pay higher towing fees.

"The only reason for this increase in fees is to further line the pockets of the rich people who own the tow trucks and companies that do business with the city," Hackney said. "Please do not let them charge even more money."

The tow fee increases under consideration yesterday only applied to vehicles towed without an owner's consent illegally parked or abandoned or derelict cars.

Tow companies had lobbied state lawmakers earlier this year for a rate hike, citing higher gas and storage costs, but the proposal didn't pass.

Under the proposed increase, the flat rate of a tow would go from $55 to $65 and the per-mile charge would increase from $6.50 a mile to $10 a mile.

The city opposed the measure because in addition to raising the fees, it would have made the city responsible for inspecting tow vehicles and for the liability, requiring the need for more staff and resources, said Jeff Coelho, director of the city Department of Customer Services.

Tow companies received a raise in rates in 2003, when the flat rate increased to $55 from $50 per tow, said Jan Wakayama, president of the Hawai'i State Towing Association.

Last year, 21,000 vehicles were towed because they were abandoned, derelict or illegally parked.

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.