Tackling towing again

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 09:54 AM

It’s become a cliché since it first entered the language as a classic example of baseball great Yogi Berra’s ability to mangle the language.

It’s déjà vu, all over again.

That’s what the tussle over towing is beginning to look like in Chapel Hill. Just weeks after the N. C. Court of Appeals affirmed the town’s right to limit practices by towing companies that infuriated residents, the new towing ordinance is on hold again.

George’s Towing and Recovery, which has spearheaded the fight against the ordinance and, in a somewhat related crusade, the town’s even more controversial ban on cellphone use behind the wheel, has filed notice it will appeal the towing ruling to the Supreme Court.

And last week, a day after the town finally began to enforce the ordinance that initially went into effect in January, the high court stayed enforcement pending the outcome of George’s appeal.

The stay was not unusual – courts normally side with postponing prospective damage from a lower-court ruling while they sort out the issues involved in the appeal. And George’s is only pursuing its rights to have its case heard by to the highest court in the state.

Still, it’s unfortunate that residents – and perhaps even more important, unwitting visitors – will have to wait months longer before the town can reign in towing practices that many found onerous and unnecessary.

It’s hard to imagine that the towing company is winning any friends and prospective voluntary customers – as opposed to those customers thrust into its orbit by the aggressive towing of cars parked beyond the limit in public spaces or without authorization in private lots that dot the town.

It’s no surprise that parking restrictions would lead to conflict and stress in a town famously under-provided with space for the cars that town policy sometimes seems to wish would just go away in favor of hordes of mass-transit riders.

But the seeming over-the-top policies that towers sometimes pursued became too much for the council, which voted to cap the maximum fee at $150 for towing a car from a private lot and capped other fees much lower than what companies often charged.

Towing company officials argue that the fees as capped would make it impossible to stay in business. 

Perhaps there is a compromise that tempers the fees yet meets reasonable expectations for a profit that justifies being in a line of work that requires 24/7 response. 

But it’s hard to imagine that a protracted court fight will serve the companies or the town well.