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San Jose Rethinking Towing Industry Practices As Abandoned Vehicles Pile Up

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- There is a push to reassess the process of towing cars in San Jose in order to reduce the number of abandoned vehicles in the city's tow yards.

Art Amirkhas, owner of Morris and Sons tow yard in San Jose, says car owners face a minimum $300 dollar bill including towing fees, fines and storage charges.

If the driver does not claim the car right away, the fees will add up daily. "It is our job and we're going to perform our job to our contractual obligation," said Amirkhas.

Many drivers can't afford to get their cars back, so they abandon them.  Three out of every four cars towed in San Jose never get claimed.

One Buick in the yard was towed in three nights before.  The owner returned but only to get her clothes out of the car.  "I can't afford to get the car out" she said.  Fees added up to over $600.

Amirkhas, a board member with the California Tow Truck Association, denies tow companies gouging drivers, but acknowledged "I'm aware of that sentiment or that public outcry, if you will."

Amirkhas agreed reclaiming vehicles is expensive, but said it's expensive for operators, too.  He cited skyrocketing land costs in San Jose and the cost of equipment.  Modern tow trucks are well over six figures each.

"When you incorporate that, and then add the costs to have employees operate that equipment, it contributes to those steady increases that
you see on an annual basis" he said.

Amirkhas says his industry can become more efficient and that would help bring costs down.  He said operators can also do better at customer relations.  His crews take pictures of the cars they tow to show how they were illegally parked.  The pictures are displayed on a screen at the desk where they come to claim the cars.

Recently, the San Jose City Council voted to give tow companies a break on city fees because they are losing money towing cars that go unclaimed.  But one councilmember says the city should also be helping drivers.

"Our residents also have financial hardships and they need our help so they can retrieve their cars so they can get to work, school and to the doctor's" said councilmember Sylvia Arenas.  "What we can do is emulate some of the programs that our big sister cities are doing, like San Francisco, and so they're providing some reduced fees for folks who get towed for the first time or who are very low income."

It's going to be an ongoing issue in San Jose for at least the next 18 months, as an audit is conducted to go through the towing process and see if efficiencies and a more equitable deal can be reached that would benefit drivers and allow the tow companies to stay in business.

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