On a stormy late afternoon in the Greater Toronto Area late in February, a truck came around a bend in the road and saw the road blocked in front of him as a result of an accident. The driver, in an attempt to get stopped and avoid striking the vehicles, ended up jackknifing on ice and was fully blocking the roadway. Before the driver or company could call for their own tow, the OPP took charge and called on a tow to clear the roadway in as quick a fashion as possible. The end result, one of our member companies was charged $6,000.00 for a 28 minute tow. Our member asked for justification for the high charge. She was informed that the hourly charge was $750 per hour, per truck, at a minimum 4 hours. The tow operator had two trucks in the area at the time and chose to use them both, even though our member company was not provided clear justification on this as it appeared the job only required one truck. So, as a result, a 28 minute hook-up to pull the unit straight was being billed at $6000. When pressing for further clarity on the billing procedures one response became repetitive: “It’s an OPP call”. This reference was used many times during their conversation. In other words, the police called it in, we have you over a barrel, the bill is what it is…..After what was almost an hour long conversation at the side of the road, the tow operator agreed to lower the charge to $4400.00. (the truck had been towed off the roadway and was on its way under its own power at this point)
Now let me be clear, this viewpoint is not meant to be an assault on the tow industry or the OPP. The PMTC and its members understand the need to get our roadways cleared quickly after an accident and agree that the police must have the powers to do so. Clearing the roadways quickly improves safety by ensuring the hazard is managed correctly and timely. Getting the roadways back to full capacity improves traffic flow and mitigates delays in getting goods and people to their destination on time as well. As for heavy tow operators, we understand this is a highly specialized field, and that the drivers are exposed to hazards daily while performing their jobs. It is not a job for everyone, and we highly respect the work that they do. Many of our Member companies build close working relationships with their tow operators and negotiate rates that are to be charged for various situations ahead of time. Some companies go as far as searching out tow operators for each region they operate in and have an approved list of providers that are used by region. This is done for two main reasons, one being the quality of work that the tow operator performs, and the other to keep cost controls in line. This all goes out the window in a second when the control to call for a tow is removed from the carrier and driver, and they are at the complete mercy of someone they have no experience or relationship with.
In Ontario’s current action plan, “Supporting the Trucking Industry”, one of the short-term goals they have in place is to increase police powers to clear the roadways quicker after accidents. The PMTC is in support of this in principle, and as one of the stakeholders involved in consultations over the last 2 years to help build this broad-based plan, have stated so. However, what we have also indicated at these meetings, is while we support this in principle, we must at the same time come up with a system that protects the interests of the road user, the tow operators, and the transport operators at the same time. The question is, how do we achieve this? A few suggestions that the PMTC has made in the past
- when the police first arrive on scene, if the driver is available, have the police ask if the company has an approved list of towing operators, if they do, have them provide this list to the police and have the police try to contact one on that list before going to their own.
- The police, the MTO, and industry can work together to have an approved list of emergency tow operators for each region. This list would be built based on availability, fair business practices, and the ability to perform the job.
- Work with the tow industry to set maximum rates for emergency road calls for each region. This way everyone is at least aware of what the maximum exposure would be in each region they operate in.
This may seem like pie in the sky, however I believe it is a topic that needs to be addressed. Most tow operators operate their businesses in a truly professional manner, and are fully compliant with all rules, regulations, and fair business practices. We do however have a minority segment who will take advantage of situations and use the opportunity to charge exorbitant fees. Imagine receiving an invoice like the one mentioned above if you are a small operator, say 10 trucks or less, an invoice like this could put you in serious financial hardship. We must ensure we protect the interests of everyone in the industry.