The City of Ottawa has launched a sweeping review of its tow truck bylaws after years of complaints from consumers about shady, unsafe practices and inflated billing.
The cloud hanging over the industry darkened further last month when three Ottawa police officers were accused of collaborating with tow truck operators in an illegal kickback scheme.
Last year, a 21-year veteran of the Ottawa Police Service likened Ottawa's towing industry to 'the Wild West.'
The regulatory review launched this week could bring in mandatory licensing and standardized pricing.
"We've been talking about this for a while. Unfortunately the issue isn't resolving itself," said Coun. Jenna Sudds, chair of the city's community and protective services committee.
Earlier this week, the city launched two online surveys, one aimed at gathering feedback from towing operators and another aimed at consumers. Many of the questions appear designed to get at consumer complaints about price gouging.
The city said the surveys will eventually guide staff recommendations for potential new regulations aimed at increasing consumer protection and improving safety at collision scenes.
Jennifer Marenger said she'll be filling out the consumer survey.
The 33-year-old office manager for an Ottawa scaffolding company said she'd only owned her 2017 Ford F150 for a few months when she was sideswiped by another driver on St. Laurent Boulevard on April 2.
No Limit Roadside and Recovery hooked up her damaged truck and towed it to a locked yard seven kilometres away. Twelve days later, in response to Marenger's insurance agent's inquiries about the vehicle's whereabouts, the towing company presented a bill for $2,426.10 plus another $105 for each day of storage.
When the insurance agent balked at that price, a No Limit representative offered to reduce the bill to $1,608 for the tow and $85 per day of storage.
"I wonder how he sleeps at night," Marenger said.
Her truck is still sitting unrepaired in the towing company's yard while Marenger drives a rental supplied by Intact Insurance.
"I feel betrayed, very betrayed and taken advantage of," Marenger said.
No Limit turned down an interview request from CBC News.
The city's regulatory review surveys ask whether storage and towing fees should be standardized and transparent, and whether the operators should be licensed as they are in many other Ontario cities.
Provincial rules designed to protect consumers from excessive towing fees came into effect in 2017, but Sudds suggested they still don't go far enough.
"We don't have a lot of tools in our tool belt right now," she said. "I think transparency with those fees is needed and is lacking at this point in time."
For now, Jennifer Marenger's hands are tied. It's considered a civil matter, so police won't get involved, and even if her insurance company takes No Limit to court, COVID-19 means it will likely be months before the matter can be heard and she's back behind the wheel of her own vehicle.
If the bill goes unpaid, No Limit could sell Marenger's $50,000 truck to cover its costs.
"I work hard to pay for my truck and he has it sitting in a yard, not taking care of it so he can make an extra buck," she said.
The city is accepting comments online until June 30. A report on the results of the surveys could be ready for council as early as the fall.