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Northwest Side Ald. Gilbert Villegas Proposes Ordinances To Stick It To Predatory Towing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We've been reporting about shady tow truck companies for years here at CBS 2.

As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported Wednesday, a Northwest Side alderman now wants to stop drivers from being ripped off once and for all.

At a Sept. 3 City Council hearing on predatory towing, some witnesses made some observations that sound familiar.

"They're arriving on crash scenes before police and fire personnel," said Chicago Police Sgt. Keith Blair.

"We dove into this issue for the past 10 years," said United Road Towing chief operating officer Kevin Corcoran.

Yet, we're still talking about it – tow truck drivers in Chicago treating our streets like the Wild West.

One driver had to pay "$2,000 cash – cash – to retrieve his vehicle," Tim Lynch of the National Insurance Crime Bureau said at the hearing.

That September testimony led to two October ordinances, organized by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), who is Mayor Lori Lightfoot's floor leader on the City Council.

"We feel that this is a public safety issue," Villegas said.

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Villegas admitted he is not the first, but hopes to be the last, city official to tackle seedy situations when it comes to towing. CBS 2 has uncovered those seedy situations countless times.

"There has to be a mechanism on our part that allows us to pull back on these companies," Villegas said.

His idea is to require a city towing license that can be revoked for misbehavior.

But how is that different from what is done by the state's towing regulator, the Illinois Commerce Commission?

"As soon as ICC begins to investigate them, they change their name, and then go out of business and open up a new business within days," Villegas said. "So they know it's a cat-and-mouse game."

Villegas' second ordinance would incentivize rule-following – a rotating system of which tow operator gets sent where and when.

"These tow truck drivers won't be speeding to the accident site to obtain the business," Villegas said.

He said that would cut down on red-light running and more.

"The city could be broken up theoretically into north, central, and south, where there'll be territories that companies can bid on," Villegas said, "and once an accident does take place, the Chicago Police Department knows to notify the approved vendors."

How would the ordinance ensure that there is no shadiness that goes on with what companies get approved?

"Well, that'll be done through the chief procurement office," Villegas said.

A consumer who got into an accident and called AAA or their insurance company could still choose which towing company they want. The rotation ordinance would be geared toward police tows involving either abandoned vehicles or recent wrecks - such as where someone has to be rushed to the hospital.

The whole process for these ordinances is probably months away.

But the encouraging news is that Villegas said Mayor Lori Lightfoot got wind of his work and gave the green light to create a towing task force.

"Whatever's currently in place isn't working," Villegas said.

What these ordinances will not do is establish official towing rates. The state does not even have that power; federal law prevents caps.


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