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City Towing Ordinance Up For Debate Tonight

Complaints from drivers who've had their cars towed in Charlotte are on the rise, so the city council is looking to crack down on what towing companies can do. A public hearing on the issue is set for tonight. Getting your car towed will still be the pits under the city's new proposed ordinance. But it will be a little less painful. For starters, Major Eddie Levins says you won't have to wait until morning to claim your car when it's towed during a romantic dinner uptown. "That was one of the bigger complaints was people getting their cars towed right at 7 p.m. and literally couldn't get it back until 7 a.m. And that seemed to be pretty unfair," says Levins, who is with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. But requiring small towing companies to man the phone 24-7 seems pretty unfair to Chris Van Zant, who owns Dixie Towing Services. "The expense would be horrible - it really would," says Van Zant. "Unless we're having a function downtown, we don't really have anyone that's hollering for their car at 2 o'clock in the morning." Towing companies will also have to post larger warning signs in parking lots and take payment by credit card when you come to claim your car. If you're lucky enough to catch the towing in progress, the truck driver will be required to release your vehicle free of charge. That's a problem for tow truck drivers who get paid by the car. They may spend an hour hitching your car up, only to lose out on the money when you show up at the last minute. Too bad, says Major Levins. "What they're worried about is somebody might realize their mistake and come out and move their car and the tow company's out money," says Levins. "You know, I'm sorry. That's not the intent of the ordinance is to create more business for the tow companies, and they feel like we have an obligation to promote that." Actually, what Van Zant of Dixie Towing Services would like the city to do is crack down on the aggressive tactics that give tow companies a bad name. "They're sitting there with a pair - some of them's even got binoculars and they're watching you pull in," says Van Zant of practices other towing companies use. "If you don't got to the lounge that's on the sign, then they'll run over there and put a boot on you, then tow you away. To me, that's predatory towing." The new proposed ordinance doesn't prohibit that kind of stalking, but it does require the owner of the parking lot to sign off on every car that gets towed. "The tow company is just following through with the direction of the owners and I think what this does is makes the owner a little more accountable to what goes on, on the property," says Major Levins. He says car owners usually blame the towing company, when they should really take up their complaint with the business owner who hired the tow truck driver to police the parking lot. You can take up the issue Thursday night during a public hearing on the proposed ordinance from 6:30-8 p.m. in room 267 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center (600 E. Fourth Street).