In anticipation of expiration of AutoReturn's towing contract in 2015, hearing will explore need to modify new contract to treat owners of towed stolen vehicles more fairly, particularly around exorbitant fees and fines required to retrieve towed stolen vehicles

San Francisco, CA - At today's Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener will call for a hearing to review the city's automobile towing policies and fees with respect to stolen vehicles. At the hearing, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), AutoReturn - the private business that provides towing service for the city - and the San Francisco Police Department will be asked to discuss how the city and AutoReturn treat recovered stolen vehicles, including towing policies, how tow fees and penalties are structured, how stolen cars recovered on the street are processed, and how any new contract can be modified to treat the owners of stolen towed vehicles more fairly.

"Anyone who's had his or her car towed knows the pain of having to pay expensive fees and fines," said Supervisor Wiener. "This overly expensive and time consuming process becomes troubling when the owner of a stolen cars discovers that the car has been located and that to recover the car, the owner is required to fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and towing and storage charges. In some instances, the fees and fines are more than the value of the car - or more than the owner can afford - resulting in AutoReturn auctioning off the vehicle. The system needs to be reformed, and we need to make it much easier and cheaper for owners of stolen cars to recover their vehicles without being punitively charged. As we approach renegotiation of the AutoReturn contract - which will be subject to Board of Supervisors approval - we need to make clear what our expectations are for any contract presented to us for approval. Reform of how we treat owners of stolen vehicles, in my view, is essential to an acceptable contract."

Currently, when a car that has been reported stolen is found on the street, the San Francisco Police Department will call the owner and give him or her 20 minutes to come retrieve the car. If the owner does not appear, the car is towed and the victim of the car theft must then go down to AutoReturn to retrieve the car, the same as if he or she had simply parked the car in a tow away zone instead of having it stolen. The owner then has to pay substantial towing and storage fees, which accumulate quickly, in order to retrieve the car. San Francisco residents have only four hours during which they can recover their automobiles before AutoReturn begins charging a storage fee. Non-residents receive no grace period.

At the hearing, Supervisor Wiener will probe the possibility of expanding the grace period before which storage fees accrue, as well as reducing storage fees when stolen vehicles are involved.

Auto return's towing and storage fee schedule is attached.

The hearing will take place at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.


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