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THE FINE PRINT

If your car is towed, it’s about to cost you a lot more to get it back

The towing industry says it needs a hefty increase to meet its costs and stay in business.Jessey Dearing

When you return to where you parked your car and it’s not there you now will have to pay a lot more to get it back, thanks to a towing rate increase approved, at least temporarily, by the state Department of Public Utilities.

The DPU oversees rates for “involuntary” tows, those ordered by police to remove a disabled vehicle blocking a roadway, for example, or a vehicle illegally parked. The agency also oversees authorized tows from private property.

The towing industry says it needs a hefty increase to meet its costs and stay in business. Since 2020, the industry has repeatedly requested a substantial rate hike, saying their costs for labor and equipment have increased dramatically.

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Approval of a permanent rate increase is being opposed by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, which is calling on the DPU to make the rate increase contingent on towing companies adopting changes in how they do business, such as itemizing bills and mandatory acceptance of credit cards.

“The DPU should not consider any increases in towing fees unless and until they consider adopting long overdue consumer protections,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director, who submitted testimony to the DPU.

Last month, the DPU granted an emergency increase of 22 percent, pending final consideration after a public comment period closes next week. (The DPU will conduct a virtual public hearing on Tuesday, at 2 p.m. Details are available on the DPU website.)

As a result of the emergency approval, drivers whose passenger vehicles have been towed will now pay a maximum of $132 for a tow, versus $108 previously.

The Statewide Towing Association, which represents more than 200 towing companies, cites statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that show labor costs have skyrocketed by almost 80 percent since 2017. The association says equipment costs have gone up more than 30 percent.

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MassPIRG is pushing for a requirement that tow storage facilities allow vehicle owners to remove possessions from their car — which could include a wallet or medicine or a car seat for a child — even if they are unable to pay the tow and storage fee in full, Cummings said.

The organization also wants the DPU to require towing companies to take a picture of the vehicle before towing it, and to prohibit companies from charging for anything other than towing and storage (which is currently $35 per 24 hours, set by the legislature).

A DPU spokesperson said the tow rate increase was approved on an emergency basis to “ensure there are enough services for police-ordered towing” during winter weather.


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