The Tow Zone Pilot: Industry Feedback

While the Tow Zone Pilot has helped improve conditions on Highway 401 in Ontario, legislation that protects and supports the tow industry is long overdue.

by Dennis Roberts, director, Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO)

Tow Canada has provided in-depth coverage of the Tow Zone Pilot program in Ontario. We have traced its origins, reviewed its current state, and suggested future possibilities. We have also conducted exclusive interviews with key industry stakeholders to help readers better understand the program. Finally, we have encouraged everyone to share their feedback. The following is a response from the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO).

With a year under its belt, Tow Zone Pilot management appears to have come up with a solution for  handling incident management in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) with improvements in all aspects, both large and small. It seems the only detractors of the project are coming from the towing and other sectors that were causing the problems prior to the Tow Zone Pilot.

One of my concerns is it seems that all of the “stakeholders” are leaning very heavily on the one industry that sees the least amount of support. I am not saying that the tow industry should be receiving government funding; however, the tow industry does need support from the government with respect to roadside safety during tow and recovery operations, with (1) Slow Down, Move Over protection and enforcement (let’s see some blitz’s/charges laid), and also (2) post tow/recovery support via legislation that would guarantee that the tow industry is paid for all work in a timely fashion.

Regardless of whether or not we are “contracted” to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) with a written contract, the tow industry is in fact a contractor for the MTO or municipal government when responding to a call for service by a law enforcement agency. It is way past time for all governments to acknowledge this and put into place legislation that supports the tow industry in its attempts to get paid for work completed. That legislation needs to involve a mechanism where tow companies can collect on towing abandoned vehicles, uninsured vehicles, and payment from the insurance industry without the harassment of Section 24 of The Storage & Lien Act (a simple, effective means of getting paid).

“It seems the only detractors of the project are coming from the towing and other sectors that were causing the problems…”

It is neither fair nor just that of all the “stakeholders” the tow industry is the only one that goes and does their job and hopes to get paid. All other stakeholders are guaranteed a paycheck by the taxpayer, yet the tower is often left swinging in the breeze.

While it could be said the tow industry brought this on themselves, it is more accurate to say  that criminal opportunists infiltrated the tow industry and were left to run rampant by agencies that just wanted the roads cleared. It was not until things got way out of hand and the public was endangered that those agencies started to call for change.

I must say that it gets under my skin when the tow industry is portrayed as a bunch of lawless hoods, when in fact towers are quite the opposite. I don’t know of a professional tower that does not have the basic desire to help. Did the industry have unsavory elements or “nefarious” operators? Definitely, but those operators were easy to spot, and they were still allowed to continue to operate for far too long, mostly due to the “get-my-road-open attitude.”  There is lots of blame to go around, and there were many participating businesses in the rampant fraud, but the tow industry seems to be the whipping boy for all.

The following are questions I asked Sal Fedele, owner and president of ABC Towing in Burlington, Ontario, and PTAO board member, whose company is servicing a section in the Tow Zone Pilot project:

Is the environment in the Tow Zone areas better or worse now?

Sal Fedele (SF): The environment in the Tow Zone is much better, so much so that operators are hearing positive comments from others in the industry when towing into their facilities, from service advisors for repair shops, and from commercial trucking company owners. Those comments themselves should speak volumes.

In your opinion, were/are those giving the tow industry a black eye towers or criminal opportunists?

SF: For now, I would say they have been displaced into other areas outside the Tow Zone and some may have moved on to other types of work.

Prior to the Tow Zone Pilot, was it worth it for you to try to tow on the 400 series highways?

SF: No, it was not worth it. There were just too many trucks out there chasing everything down.

In your opinion, do you think any substantial amount of fault lies outside the tow industry for issues that brought on the Tow Zone Pilot?

SF: The acceptance of first available/first on scene or chasing, which 30 years ago may have seemed harmless (compared to what it evolved into), has something to do with it. I don’t think the government understood enough about the tow industry to have wanted to get involved. Thinking that, we, as an industry may have been able to stabilize it on our own, like other industries have done and continue to do.

Are you content with the amount of oversight and the information/data requirements in the Tow Zones?

SF: Yes, absolutely!

Do you feel the data collected will be useful?

SF: Yes, very much so. I’m sure it will aid in shaping a Tow Zone program that will hopefully be rolled across the province, not just in the GTHA.

In your opinion, are the tow companies in the zones collaborating better now than before the pilot project?

SF: Yes, we are, we are in constant communication and working towards the success of this project. I believe it is a common goal.

Has being in the Tow Zone Pilot project made it more difficult for you to maintain your business (look after customers) outside the zones?

SF: It created some challenges in the beginning, but we have made adjustments over time to make it work. I believe everyone involved has probably had to make some adjustments, just as you would after being awarded any other contract or customer/client growth, which is common in any business.

Do you feel zone tow companies are receiving adequate support from other agencies in the zones?

SF: Yes, we are getting a lot of support from them all!

Any other thoughts or opinions you would like to share?

SF: I believe the program works well. It safeguards the motoring public, the transport industry, and the insurance industry in regard to fees/billing. It is also creating a uniform standard of procedures and performance in the way the towers are functioning on the highway with all first responders. Most importantly, it is creating a safer work zone for the tow operators on scene, which is something that is needed in our industry. It is important to keep in mind that while new to Ontario, these types of programs have been proven to be successful across North America.

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