Supes confront excessive towing fees

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener held a hearing Thursday to discuss current fees and policies that require victims of auto thefts to pay a hefty amount to retrieve towed stolen vehicle in The City.

Representatives from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Francisco Police Department, and AutoReturn, the private towing management company that currently holds a contract with The City, met with San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener and supervisors London Breed, Katy Tang and board president David Chiu who sit on the committee.

The supervisors discussed how any new contract with AutoReturn, which is up for renewal in 2015, could be modified to decrease, or get rid of, the cost to victims of auto theft.

Under current city policies, when San Francisco police find an illegally parked stolen car, they call the owner and give them 20 minutes to retrieve the car. If the owner doesn’t appear, the car is towed and the victim of the car theft must then go to an AutoReturn lot to retrieve the car.

The car’s owner then has to pay towing and storage fees in order to retrieve their vehicle. San Francisco residents with vehicles registered in the city have four hours to recover their vehicles before AutoReturn begins charging a storage fee, but for non-residents, there is no grace period.

During the 2014 fiscal year, about 1,400 San Francisco residents and about 1,100 non-San Francisco residents were victims of auto theft within the city and had to pick up the towed stolen vehicles through AutoReturn, according to San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s financial services and contracts manager Steven Lee. A

s a result, AutoReturn collected about $531,000 related to stolen vehicle towing and storage fees in San Francisco during that same period. John Pendleton, the chief technology officer at AutoReturn spoke at the hearing today and described how other jurisdictions where the company operates handle the issue of stolen vehicle costs.

He said that in some cities the victim doesn’t incur any expense, while in others, the victim incurs a portion of the expense or the full amount.

Pendleton also said that comprehensive car insurance sometimes provides coverage for the financial burden incurred by the victim.

A member of the public who spoke at today’s hearing aired his grievances regarding the process of getting his car stolen and then having to pay fines first to AutoReturn and then the police department, leaving him feeling “victimized three times over.”

Wiener said today’s hearing left him confident that the new city contract with AutoReturn could do more to protect victims of car theft.