Fort Worth drivers could pay more for police-initiated tows starting Oct. 1. City Council members will vote to approve a new fee schedule for tows Sept. 19, despite lacking a final agreement with towing management contractor AutoReturn.
Under the proposed fee schedule, light and medium duty tows will cost $30 more, totaling $180. Heavy duty tows will cost $50 more — $300 total. Extremely light tows will cost $20 more — $120 total.
Council members agreed to pay AutoReturn, a California-based company, $1 million annually over an initial two-year term on Sept. 12. That was before the full terms of the contract were signed by the city and AutoReturn. The approved agreement includes a one-year contract renewal option costing $1.102 million annually and a two-renewal option at $1.05 million.
Police-initiated tows often occur as a result of traffic accidents, parking violations or disabled cars in public right-of-ways.
The city began contracting with AutoReturn in 2018 — that was also the last time the city’s fee schedule changed. Since then, the company has used software to dispatch towing companies to complete police tows. The company also collects and displays data on the location of towed cars so residents can easily find them.
“No one’s ever had an amazing tow experience, and it’s not anyone’s fault, right?” said Nina Carazas, chief operating officer at AutoReturn. “It’s just, we haven’t created an environment or an infrastructure to provide that level of transparency.”
Before seeking bids for the new towing management contract, the city met with its 22 towing operators who requested a higher fee schedule to account for higher gas and operating costs, Kimberly Dees, the Fort Worth Police Department’s towing liaison, previously told the Report.
The higher fees are necessary to cover the increasing expenses of tow providers, according to the proposal up for approval Sept. 19.
The city contract with AutoReturn has had a positive impact on the city, Dees said. It has reduced wait times for tow trucks by about 15 to 30 minutes on average, she said.
AutoReturn’s contract expired this month. The city sought bids in May for a company to manage towing dispatch and data collections. In 2018 the city received four bids for the towing management contract; this time AutoReturn was the sole respondent.
Under the previous contract, the company received a $22 dispatch fee for each police-initiated tow performed in connection with AutoReturn, according to the city’s current contract. Since the contract was approved, AutoReturn has dispatched over 101,000 tow trucks, according to the city’s informal report, resulting in about $2.2 million in revenue for AutoReturn over the contract’s life.
Tow operators were initially skeptical of a third party determining when and how they would respond to wrecks and police-initiated tows. Now, those concerns have primarily been addressed, according to April and Henry Tijerina, owners of Purrfect Towing.
AutoReturn’s contract requires complaints lodged against contracted towing operators to be sent to the city. After that, it’s up to the city to take action.
The city recently ended its relationship with towing provider Beard’s Towing after it found the company committed “repeated contractual violations of the city’s requirements,” including charging towing fees in excess of the authorized amount, failing to provide required information and verbally abusing city employees. The company has denied any wrongdoing.
The new contract will go into effect Oct. 1 and expire Sept. 30, 2025, with a one- or two-year renewal option.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 22 to correct that date of the towing contract approval.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.