Greater Lafayette towing companies call on West Lafayette to increase rates after nearly 20 years
Five towing companies are calling on the city of West Lafayette to increase rates for their services after nearly 20 years.
The city put a cap on how much towing companies could charge in 2003 - and now, those businesses say that’s forcing them to operate at a loss.
During a recent wash day at Joey’s Enterprise Services, a towing company in Lafayette, the yard hummed with the sound of a generator as several employees gave one of the company’s massive trucks a thorough rinse.
After shutting down the machine, employee Jordan Mitchell pointed to a dusty yard overflowing with wrecked and impounded cars left in the company's care. Mitchell said somewhere around four to five impounded cars are picked up every day.
“Accidents – it just kind of depends on the day, weather, and everything. How people want to act on the roadway,” he said.
At issue for Joey’s Enterprise - and other Greater Lafayette towing companies, which include Jim’s Garage and J & T Recovery Inc. - is that charges to the city of West Lafayette for any towing requests are capped at $85. That’s the same rate they’ve billed for almost two decades.
“What they tell us is we're only allowed to charge - it’s not enough,” Mitchell said. “We need to be able to charge what we need to charge. You get a bad enough accident, we can’t send three guys out there for a hundred bucks.”
Inside the offices of Joey’s Enterprise, General Manager Karrie Driscol said the rates have been capped since 2003 - something she attributes to price gouging that tow companies were doing at the time.
“Did the rates start coming into effect because of people charging way too much? Yes,” she said. “I understand why they put those caps into place. Nobody wants to have to be handed a $500 bill to tow their car out of a parking spot.”
But, Driscol said, that old cap is no longer manageable for towing companies like hers – and answering a tow call from the West Lafayette police forces the company to provide that service at extremely thin margins, or at a loss.
Driscol gives the example of a basic 15-mile tow to and from West Lafayette.
“We’re capped at $85. To do that same call with today’s pricing, it costs our company $127 to do the call,” she said. “Every time we’re going out there to do these calls, there’s no wiggle room to even coming close to where we need to be to recoup our costs for going out and providing services for the city.”
For a comparable 15 mile tow in Tippecanoe County, Driscol said her company would charge roughly $308.
Joey’s Enterprise is one of five area towing companies on call in the area to service the city of West Lafayette, rotating to take emergency calls from city police on accidents or impounds. Locally, West Lafayette is the only place with towing price caps in place - neither Lafayette nor Tippecanoe County have caps.
Rising gas prices and supply chain woes, combined with the price limits, have begun to have such a severe impact on towing companies that Driscol went to talk to the other towing businesses - her competitors - so they could get on the same page about demanding a higher rate from the city. Those discussions culminated in Driscol reading a plea to West Lafayette’s city council last month.
“It’s a very competitive world out here in the business industry. For us, all five, to be on the same page, and to have eight people present from the various companies, and saying – hey, this is our livelihood, this is affecting us – is very monumental for us,” she said.
West Lafayette’s Mayor John Dennis was asked whether he supported raising the caps during WBAA’s Ask the Mayor last month.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Those folks work so hard.”
But, when asked for comment more recently, Dennis sounded less certain – writing that the city was comparing its rates with others from around the state “to determine if a change is necessary.”
When asked for comment, West Lafayette Police Chief Troy Harris said they are working with the tow companies and will have a plan to the city council within the next few weeks.
Driscol said if the plan doesn’t include an increase to the city cap she doesn’t know if she - or other local towing companies - will be signing back onto a contract with the city this year.
“For us, as a company, I don’t know how feasible it’s going to be to sign that contract for next year,” she said. “They don’t know how feasible it’s going to be moving forward to continue providing that. It’s something to keep an eye on. We can’t operate at losses.”
Driscol says their contract is up for renewal in June of this year.