Company charges $180 per tow in Chapel Hill

tgrubb@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2012 

A motorist pays to retrieve his car Friday night on West Franklin Street. The Town Council will meet tonight to discuss its response to a judge's ruling the town's towing ordinance unconstituional.

TAMMY GRUBB - TGRUBB@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

  • What’s Next The Chapel Hill Town Council will meet in closed session at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall to discuss a judge’s ruling that has kept the town from enforcing its towing ordinance.

— The men stopped Friday evening at Panera Bread to grab a quick bite to eat, parking in the restaurant’s lot on West Franklin Street.

That’s when UNC sophomore Satya Polisetti saw his parents across the street, he said. He and freshman Trevor Calhoun ran over to say hello. They returned to Panera about 10 minutes later and looked around for their car before realizing it had been towed.

Their mistake cost them $180, he said.

A reporter watched the 200 block of West Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill for nine hours over three days last week. George’s Towing, the company at the center of the town’s towing debate, removed four cars from the Panera parking lot and almost removed four or five others during that time. Some drivers made it back before the truck left the lot and only had to pay half the fee.

As two truck operators were hooking up a Chevy truck at 8:17 p.m. Thursday, a woman ran over from Chipotle to stop them. They waited while she ran to University Square and came back with money.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was parked about five minutes and had seen the towing sign. She didn’t think they would tow her, she said after paying $90 for her car.

About 15 minutes later, a sedan driver parked at Panera, and a female passenger got out with her dog. As she waited by the sidewalk, the tow truck pulled up to the car. When the male driver got out, he saw the truck. The couple quickly returned to the car and left.

UNC-Chapel Hill students starting classes this week returned to a town with no towing rules in effect, after a judge ruled the town’s new ordinance was unconstitutional regulation of trade. The Town Council will meet Wednesday night to consider next steps.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the ordinance promoted community safety and welfare. It required signs, set the maximum towing fee at $125 and required companies to accept credit cards, among other measures.

Attorney Thomas Stark, who represents George’s Towing, said towing from private lots keeps the spaces open for customers and that prices should reflect gas, wear and tear on the trucks and other costs.

$180 per vehicle

The company has responded to recent complaints about its $250 fee for heavier vehicles by now charging everyone the same $180 fee, he said. The company had been charging $150 for lighter cars.

Three companies – Barnes Towing, Bob’s Towing and T-Roy – each have signs posted in three downtown private lots. Signs in eight other lots advise drivers to call George’s Towing. Drivers typically work in two-man teams, watching for illegal parking in person and on surveillance cameras, a practice some critics have called predatory but which George’s Towing just considers smart.

The cameras help in disputes over what really happened, Stark said.

“One thing that’s been interesting to me … is the absolute fabrications people that are towed are saying,” he said. “It’s a matter of taking responsibility for what you’re doing.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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