Virginia towing companies could gain the right to impose $20 fuel surcharge
Legislation would sunset on July 1, 2024, pending governor’s signature
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
Lawmakers passed legislation granting towing operators in Virginia the ability to charge $20 to cover fuel for every private property or privacy trespass tow. A vehicle tow can cost up to $150 in Virginia, with exceptions depending on locality and whether the towing happens on a weekend or holiday.
The legislation, which initially carried a $30 fuel surcharge, was amended by lawmakers before the bill’s passage.
The House passed the bill on a 50-45 vote, with a 21-19 vote in the Senate. Del. Scott Wyatt, R-Hanover, who carried the legislation, said consumer protection is key but was surprised by lawmakers’ mixed reactions to the bill, which is a response to the towing industry’s push to address inflation.
“I would never have thought this bill to assist small family-owned businesses would create so much debate in committees and both bodies,” said Wyatt during a Feb. 23 floor vote. “These small businesses are just trying to pay their employees a little more during tough economic times.”
However, Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, described the amendment lowering the surcharge from $30 to $20 as a way to make “a bad bill slightly better.” Favola urged lawmakers to vote against the legislation while they wait for the Secretary of Transportation to analyze towing data from Virginia’s localities and develop a consumer protection provision that would give individuals the right to sue a towing company, instead of relying on the attorney general to do it for them.
“This sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a bill is not really how we should be doing this,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, who opposed the legislation.
The Virginia Association of Counties opposed the legislation, as did Arlington County. Ilana Creinin, Arlington’s legislative affairs liaison, said the locality opposed the bill due to the lack of data transparency and consumer protections.
“We feel we are putting the cart before the horse if we don’t look at consumer protections, data transparency and a fuel increase altogether,” Creinin said.
Lawmakers including Dels. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, also opposed the legislation on Feb. 2.
Herring expressed displeasure after a speaker gave testimony that indicated consumer protection was as important as increasing towing fees.
“To say you are going to talk about consumer protection only if you are going to talk about fees … puts you in a bad position and makes the industry look like a bunch of predators,” Herring said.
Consumer protection is “very important” because when someone’s vehicle is towed, Herring said, it takes drivers away from getting children to school, work or the hospital.
Bagby said some constituents have also expressed that their vehicles have remained impounded because of financial restraints. Vehicle owners who fail to pick up their vehicles early often incur increased costs.
“One single mistake should not put you in a position to lose your vehicle,” said Bagby on Feb. 2.
Municipalities are authorized to set “reasonable limits” on towing fees, according to state code.
Michael Croker, of Shanks Towing South, was one of several bill supporters during this year’s session who said the issue driving the fuel surcharge push was increasing fuel costs.
“The largest expense is payroll and second largest is fuel, which has more than doubled in the last three years,” Croker said at the Feb. 2 House Transportation Committee meeting.
Legislators including Dels. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt, and Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, who reflected on inflation’s impact on gasoline costs, sided with the tow operators.
“All of us are dealing with situations that we hope would give us some relief,” McQuinn said.
Austin added that he understands lawmakers regulate the income of towing companies by setting the rates, but he doesn’t believe that operators “should be held accountable for other people’s negligence.” He later added, “I don’t know how we balance this scale.”
The bill, which sunsets on July 1, 2024, awaits the governor’s signature.
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