Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to waive the tow fees for city residents who are victims of car theft.
The unanimous vote means residents will no longer have to shell out towing fees of up to $185 when their stolen vehicles are towed within city limits.
The vote adds to a recent city mandate that allows victims up to 48 hours to pick up their vehicle from a towing company facility without having to pay for vehicle storage, which is $60 per day.
Tow companies will now pay the victims’ tow fees, as well, according to Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, whose office proposed the new fee waiver.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, a local tow company representative objected to providing free tows, saying companies already took a financial hit by providing free storage for 48 hours.
The mayor and his staff, who are confident that contracted tow companies will have to adhere to the new fee waivers, countered that the number of victims of car theft who are also Richmond residents is “quite small” and thus not a significant financial burden.
According to RPD, several tow companies split the work of hauling about 13 stolen vehicles in the city each month, said Christopher Whitmore, the mayor’s director of community engagement. One must be a Richmond resident to receive the waivers.
The mayor’s office is now working with the Richmond Police Department on implementing a process that ensures residents are made aware about the fee waivers. Some unwitting residents have continued to pay storage fees for stolen cars even after the 48-hour waiver period was implemented. The reason is that RPD has yet to install a process to inform residents and ensure they have the means to claim waivers, the mayor’s staff said.
Councilman Eduardo Martinez claimed Tuesday he recently paid storage fees after his stolen pickup truck was sent to the tow facility. Martinez said no one told him he was eligible for a waiver as a Richmond resident.
“We’ve consulted with RPD on the 48-hour waiver, and RPD confirmed that a process …currently does not exist,” said David Gray, chief of staff for the mayor’s office.
One potential process mentioned Tuesday would require a police officer to provide owners of stolen cars 30 minutes to pick up their vehicle before the car is brought to a storage facility. Victims will then have 48 hours to pick up their vehicle before the storage facility will begin charging for storage. Police may also need to provide residents with documentation they would bring to the tow facility in order to receive the waivers.
The mayor’s staff began researching the issue after a resident complained she felt victimized twice after her stolen car was found and she was stuck with the tow charges.