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Pittsburgh official slams towing outfits

| Thursday, March 4, 2010

Marie Hower won't soon forget the $225 she paid after her car was towed from a Rite Aid parking lot near her South Side home.

"I had been using it for years when parking got tight. Even our Realtor said it would be OK," said Hower, 49.

Then Allegheny Auto & Truck told her she had to come with cash to retrieve the car.

"It was like they were holding it for ransom or something," she said.

Hower's situation is too common, said City Councilman Doug Shields. Most people don't know the city code limits towing companies from charging more than $110 for tows they don't agree to and the companies must accept payment by credit card.

"It's basically carjacking," Shields said.

Shields scheduled a 10 a.m. meeting on March 11 about his plan to regulate towing operations in the city. His legislation, which stems from a year of registering about 50 complaints, would require towing companies to apply for a business license, and mandates licensing their drivers. Towing companies don't have to do either.

"There's a lot of things we can and cannot regulate in this world ... but one thing we found absolutely clear (is that) we have the ability to set the rate for non-consensual towing," Shields said.

Laurel Karanza, 63, of Bethel Park had to pay a $180 fee to Howard's Towing in Hazelwood after she parked her car at the Post Office on the North Shore while attending a Pirates game.

"When we came out there were other people scratching their heads, too," she said. "Every car was gone."

"I think the company should be ridiculed for charging more than they should," said Karanza, who was told that she needed cash to retrieve her car.

Officials from both Howard's Towing and Allegheny Auto & Truck did not return messages seeking comment.

Shields said aggressive towing companies are illegally towing. He said city code allows motorists to park in the lots of businesses closed for the day as long as there are no barriers such as fences, chains or cones preventing them from doing so. According to the city law, lot owners are supposed to be fined $1,000 for each car towed at what Shields called "spiderweb" lots "because they lure you in and then get you."

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