KC tries new way to reduce price gouging for tows

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After years of complaints about price gouging and poor service, Kansas City is changing the way it handles tow truck calls for police and stranded motorists.

The city has hired a private company, San Francisco-based Auto Return, to manage tow dispatch starting Tuesday in southern Kansas City. The new system will be rolled out citywide by Nov. 1, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/QRGsHu).

A company with fewer than 10 tow trucks had previously been contracted to handle the some 14,000 police-initiated calls for a tow per year. Auto Return will subcontract with 24 tow companies and use GPS tracking to send the closest truck to the scene.

Under the old system, police waited up to an hour for a tow. Stranded motorists often found that unregulated tow truck drivers would arrive first — and charge too much for their services.

Regulated Industries manager Gary Majors said the new system should cut response times from 60 to 20 minutes or less and reduce the risk of overcharging.

"It's having a lot more eyes on the street to report those that now are wreck chasing, that would be stealing money from these guys," Majors said.

The 24 tow truck companies all had to prove that their equipment, insurance and drivers were up to scratch before they would be included in the new system. Police will be allowed to recommend a tow truck company for motorists whose vehicles have broken down or call for the closest tow truck company through Auto Return. A regular tow in the metro area would cost $200, Majors said.

"The beauty of it is, you'll know right up front what the fee is and you'll have some recourse if you don't get good service, which currently you don't have," he said.

Auto Return, which has a one-year contract with the possibility of renewals for up to five years, will get $22 for each tow it manages, which is included in the $200 fee. It will cost $200 to collect vehicles from the tow lot, up from $165.

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