A city committee is set to vote on recommendations for Ottawa's towing industry that would enhance consumer protection and public safety, after getting an overwhelming amount of feedback calling for some sort of regulation.
The recommendations include flat rates for certain services to ensure customers aren't "overbilled," as well as a licensing system for tow truck and storage facility operators.
The city's towing industry is currently unregulated and unlicensed, even though more than a dozen other municipalities in Ontario have laws on the books.
"It's been the wild west for a very long time with towing services," said Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff, chair of the community and protective services committee that will vote Thursday on the recommendations.
"Setting up a regulatory regime like this is important so we can protect the citizens of Ottawa from these kinds of corrupt practices."
Large majority support regulation
The City of Ottawa collected public feedback through an online survey, and of the 1,000 respondents who weighed in over one month. 97 percent agreed the city should regulate the industry.
More than 90 percent said it should regulate rates. Another 90 percent said existing consumer protection and towing fees are problematic.
"We've heard a lot from Ottawa residents about aggressive tactics at accident scenes and stories of what sounds like outright extortion once a vehicle has been towed from a parking lot," said Luloff.
"The proposed regulations focus on enhancing consumer protection, public safety and protection of property. These are all issues that were raised during consultation and stakeholder engagement."
Public consultations included responses from 25 industry stakeholders, said Luloff, and while they all supported a business licensing system, some said the city's proposed regime was more costly than what exists in other municipalities.
The city intends to charge $1,300 for an annual tow service operator license. It will also charge $1,300 for storage facility operators and $550 per tow truck annually.
Luloff said the licensing rates are intended to cover enforcement.
Complaints stretch back years
Ottawans have complained of predatory practices by towing companies for years, with stories of surprise bills exceeding thousands of dollars and vehicles held hostage on storage lots.
A veteran Ottawa police sergeant previously told CBC News he received daily complaints about exorbitant fees companies charged.
Last year, three police officers were charged with breach of trust and fraud for allegedly selling information about crashes to tow truck drivers.
If the recommendations pass the committee vote Thursday, they will still require final approval from council.