Toronto Towing is Down, Grinding Gridlock is Up

Update:                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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Fewer vehicles are getting towed for being parked illegally on city streets, even as downtown gridlock gets worse.

Information obtained by the Star shows that towing has been on a steady decline, dropping by 33 per cent in just five years.

Toronto Police records show that about 27,400 vehicles were towed last year, compared with 41,000 in 2005.

The decline is even more dramatic when limited to main arteries in the downtown core during rush hour, according to data gathered by the Ontario Safety League.

The Toronto Police parking enforcement unit attributes the drop to compliance. Parking fines have increased and police say more people are following the rules.

Police have not identified any other factors contributing to the decline, said Toronto police spokeswoman Const. Wendy Drummond.

“You can’t come up with 100 per cent of the reasons why . . . compliance definitely is one of them,” she said.

Tow company workers have other theories. Some say parking enforcement officers don’t always call for a tow when they find vehicles blocking traffic.

“I don’t want to get in a pissing contest with these guys, but I can guarantee you that the priority is to (ticket) rather than tow,” said A Towing president Alex Anissimoff, whose downtown company is one of six in the city with a contract to tow for the Toronto police.

A Towing, which covers the lucrative downtown core market, saw its numbers sink from about 20,000 tows to 16,000 in four years.

Anissimoff and others point out that officers can ticket more if they tow less. It takes only a minute or two to print a ticket. Towing takes longer because officers have to wait for the truck and supervise the tow.

Towing in Toronto went from 41,000 tows in 2005 down to 27,400 in 2010 - police say the steady decline is due to the fact that driver's are now following the rules, given that parking fines have increased on the streets of Toronto

Each year, parking enforcement officers hand out about 2.8 million tickets and generate $80 million for the city.

Officers do not have official daily quotas, police said, but they are expected to meet a “performance standard” based on the number of tickets issued in years past. Those who issue more tickets are rewarded with a day off.

“Parking enforcement is out for the money, cash grab for the ticket. They ain’t got no time to wait for the tow,” said John Long, owner of the debt-ridden Downtown Group Towing and Storage, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Long, who claims Toronto police are trying to put him out of business, said he gets far fewer tow calls than he was promised when he signed a contract three years ago.

Annual tows in his area were 4,672 in 2009 (the most recent specific figures available), down from about 8,000 four years before.

One tow truck operator said another factor contributing to the drop is that officers are permitted to work through lunch and go home an hour early, leaving parking enforcement short-staffed during the evening rush hour.

Police confirmed that working through lunch is permitted, but only with the approval of supervisors, who monitor the daily schedule to make sure there are enough officers on the road.

“I don’t think there’s any one reason for it,” said George Clarke, of JP Towing, another firm dealing with a drop in police contract tows. “The only thing you can absolutely state for sure is that towing is down.”

Earlier this year, the Toronto Board of Trade declared gridlock a detriment to Toronto’s economic success, with congestion costing the city $6 billion a year in wasted time, fuel and productivity. The board also placed Toronto dead last in a ranking of commute times in big urban centres worldwide.

Traffic flow studies have shown that a lane blocked by a parked vehicle for 15 minutes can disrupt traffic for up to 45 minutes, said Brian Patterson, of the Ontario Safety League.

“That contributes significantly to congestion, and congestion leads to reckless driving,” he said. Patterson doubts the drop in cars towed can be attributed to a boom in rule-following.

“Are you really saying that one in three people who block traffic stopped doing it? It’s ridiculous,” he said.

“Clearly, the difference of opinion requires analysis.”

Toronto Police Service Contract Rates and Fees

The Toronto Police Service contract towing and storage fees are based on Toronto by-law 545, which establishes rates for towing vehicles from collision scenes on a highway.

The Toronto Police Service standard tow fee may not exceed a total price of $188.00, being the combination of the towing fee and the fees for one day of storage, excluding any applicable taxes. The standard tow fee for each district is listed with the tow company contact information.

Standard tow fees apply to all police authorized impounds of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of less than 5000 kg., located within the road allowance or where the tow truck can be driven to the vehicle to be towed. Use of dollys are included in the standard tow rates. Winching and off-road recovery costs are permitted to be charged in addition to the flat rate.

The storage day is 24 hours from the time the vehicle arrives at the pound. Twenty-five per cent (25%) of the 24 hour storage fee is chargeable for each hour of the first 4 hours, which shall include any part of an hour. One hour is payable as soon as the vehicle arrives at the pound. (The hourly rate and minimum rate will reapply at the conclusion of each 24 hour period.)

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