Will Virginia Let Towing Companies Charge More?

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The industry says inflation has made it difficult to do business.

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Towing companies are “pushing lawmakers to raise fees they’re allowed to charge drivers” in Virginia, Ben Paviour reports for VPM. The companies “argue the industry has been hit hard by inflation, and are backing legislation that would allow them to add a $30 fuel surcharge to their fees.”

John O’Neill, CEO of Arlington-based Advanced Towing, is among those making the case for higher fees, Paviour reports:

O’Neill did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment. But in a Feb. 2 subcommittee meeting, he choked up when describing how rising fuel prices left him uncertain whether he might be able to offer health insurance to employees, including one with cancer. O’Neill dismissed complaints against his company as “all technical in nature” and argued the industry follows the law, suggesting the dispute amounted to a vendetta from certain local and state politicians.

Virginia sued Advanced Towing in 2020, claiming that its conduct is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.” A court eventually found that some of Advanced Towing’s “conduct is sanctionable,” but limited penalties to only $750.

Advanced Towing is, of course, famous for that 2015 Britt McHenry video, but as Benjamin Freed wrote for Washingtonian that year, the company “has racked up an impressive number of official complaints and lingering grievances,” including once hooking a car with kids in it.

Years later, the company’s complaints page on the Better Business Bureau site still offers a long bill of particulars from aggrieved customers. Advanced Towing, David Hodes reported for Northern Virginia last year, is able to pounce quickly on cars because it employs “spotters” who “look for anyone they determine to be stepping out of line in parking lots where the businesses have contracts with Advanced.”

Arlington Delegate Alfonso Lopez has introduced bills that would have addressed the fact that only the state attorney general’s office can enforce towing laws in Virginia. Lopez’s most recent bill would have made towing subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, but it failed.

The idea behind it could still come up in a work group with the attorney general’s office requested by State Senator Dave Marsden of Fairfax, Paviour reports, noting that Marsden receieved about $10,000 in donations from towing companies and introduced legislation earlier this year that would prevent localities from capping the rates that towing companies can charge. He later pulled the legislation and decided to go the work-group route instead.

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