Contracts for City towing services used to be bid out competitively, with the City divided into districts and the bids let out accordingly. From a lifelong experience around the process of competitive bids (father and brother were contractors), I have known it to consist of several steps. 1) Specifications, blueprint, etc., for the project or service are issued; 2) A date and time by which bids must be submitted are set; 3) Bidders usually are required to have insurance and performance bonds, in the event the party awarded the contract is unable to perform; 4) Sealed bids are submitted by the stated time, usually right AT the time on the day in question; 4) Bids are opened; and 5) The lowest bid wins the contract. The main dynamic is the bidders will submit bids low enough to win as a "low" bid, but still with profit built into the price.
Apparently the City-County Council voted to eliminate competitive bidding from the award of towing contracts. Mayor Ballard has awarded the contract for towing for the entire City to a San Francisco-based company, AutoReturn. As of yesterday, the full text of the contract had not been made public. PR folks for the Mayor for the Indy Star to headline a story that towing fees would remain the same. Paul Ogden at Ogden on Politics and Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana have done a good job of pointing out what Jack Rinehart at Channel 6 had the brains to follow up---prices remain the same for the first year of the contract. By the last year of the contract they will be up Forty-Four percent (44%). The fact the contract was not made public immediately---it is, after all, a contract with a "public" entity, our City government---should be enough to have Mayor Ballard and compatriots ashamed.
An obvious question is: why would prices increase so dramatically? Another is: why are we issuing a no-bid contract to a company from another City so that more Indianapolis money goes out of town?
I have read about some of the practices of AutoReturn after it obtained San Francisco's towing contract. First, the cost of the tow is not the only cost one pays. There also are storage fees that have been characterized as "extortionate." So that $90 tow fee is just the start.
Second, there are complaints that people have had items taken from their vehicles without those people's permission and those items have not been returned. There is a legal term for that conduct, but the point is that a bailee is responsible for items it holds for a bailor. However, AutoReturn says it is not responsible for the property in vehicles it tows.
Third---and this is extremely bad---there are descriptions of tow trucks staging in areas where a lot of cars can be towed at once. On the one hand, a person might say that's good; busy areas need cars towed quickly to free up traffic congestion. Another person might say that is a predatory practice, much like polar bears who wait beside air holes in the ice for seals to come up for a breath of air.
Fourth---and this is worst---vehicles are auctioned fairly quickly. Didn't know where to look for your car you thought was stolen? Too bad, it was auctioned off yesterday. Title has passed. It was a year-old Camry in great shape? The person who bought it got a great price, then---$600, which means you still owe AutoReturn for the excess amount on storage. By the way, you also still owe on your installment loan for the purchase of that beautiful ride.
I read comparison's of the operations of AutoReturn to the Mafia. That comparison would be unfair here in Indianapolis because, as anyone with knowledge of such things can tell you, Indianapolis always has been an "open" City.
The letting of this contract stinks. The money goes out of town. Sure, if someone parks illegally or has accumulated tickets, then the system should kick in. But is a palsy-walsy contract in which the money goes out of town and the fees outrageously high the way to accomplish anything legitimately?