Towing companies are losing "tens of thousands" of dollars each year in abandoned vehicles, the provincial towing association says.
"This is an issue across the province," said president Mark Graves.
He explained that towing companies regularly respond to calls from police to collect vehicles — to clear the scene of a car crash, to tow away a vehicle that's being impounded because of a charge against the driver or to collect an abandoned vehicle from the side of the round.
But he said, often, vehicles collected are left abandoned in their yards, resulting in huge losses.
It's a really tough feeling showing up to work knowing that you're not going to get paid. - Derek Didone, County Towing
"The number of towing companies that are out there and the number of abandoned vehicles that every towing company deals with, it's astonishing. And it's something that the industry has kind of accepted as almost normal, because it's done it for so long," Graves said.
And that adds up.
Two towing companies in the municipality of Essex — Beau's Autoeverything and County Towing — have both raised the issue to town council to see if the municipality can somehow assist them with cost recovery.
"Both of us recognize that we have an issue with abandoned vehicles, people just not coming to claim their vehicles or leaving us stuck with them. It's become a problem where, the cost, the loss and the dollar amount is just getting to be too high," said Derek Didone, vice-president of County Towing.
He said his company's abandoned vehicle rate is currently at about 26 per cent.
'Not everybody gets paid'
Didone added "it's someone's responsibility" to pay for the towing service. He said he's been lobbying municipal governments, provincial governments, police departments and insurance companies for answers.
Roger Beaulieu, president of Beau's Autoeverything, said it all just comes down to getting paid for the work that they do, like when his company, for example, responds to a car crash.
"Fire and rescue went, they get paid. Ambulance goes, they get paid. Police go, they get paid. Tow truck cleans up the mess, he doesn't get a penny," he said.
"Everybody works together, but not everybody gets paid."
Didone echoes that.
'Caught in a conundrum'
"It's a really tough feeling showing up to work knowing that you're not going to get paid to do that, but it is your community and that's our job, that's what we do," he said.
"It's a shared problem between every tow company out there. I guess it's not recognized enough, in my opinion. But we're going to keep plugging away and see if we can put something in place to correct the issue."
Graves explained there is also the added stigma that if towing companies don't respond to calls from law enforcement, the calls will stop coming and companies will lose out on jobs that do pay.
"So you're kind of caught in a conundrum," he said.
'The ministry is aware'
In a statement to CBC News, a representative for the Ministry of Transportation said it has worked closely with the towing industry in an effort to make sure that major incidents on highways are cleared safely and efficiently and that it is aware of the concerns around cost recovery.
"The ministry is aware that situations arise where the heavy tow companies are not able to obtain payment for towing and storage of vehicles, particularly where their fees exceed the value of the towed vehicle or where the towed vehicle is heavily damaged and the owner has no insurance."
We are working on it, and I believe that we will survive it. - Mark Graves, Provincial Towing Association
There is a program through the Ministry of Transportation which addresses towing and recovery services on provincial highways. Under the program, tow companies registered with the program can apply to have their fees paid for by the ministry if they've been unsuccessful in getting paid by the owner of the vehicle, or the insurance company.
Didone said a similar program within municipalities would help.
He would also like to see insurance companies pay for more than what they do right now — towing costs, but only if a person has certain coverage.
"If they don't have collision coverage and they're at fault for the crash, and their car is not drivable, then that driver would be out of pocket for those charges," explained Pete Karageorgoes, director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Council to address the matter
Essex town councillor Sherry Bondy said the issue has been on her radar ever since the two companies brought it forward to council about a year ago.
She said it's concerning to her and she'd like to see if there's anything the town can do to make sure that companies doing work on municipal roads get compensated for that work.
"Nobody goes to work and doesn't want to get paid. That's the reality. So, how can we fix that as a municipality?" she said.
"It's been one of those files that have always been open and it's hopefully something in the next term of council we can provide some closure to."
In a statement to CBC News, the Town of Essex said that at this time, administration is expecting a notice of motion from council to discuss further action with respect to policies and action around dealings with tow truck companies and their operations around third party claims.
"Any future action from the Town of Essex will depend on the decision made by council."
The item is expected to come to town council Monday night.
Graves said the provincial association is working to try and solve some of these problems — but it's a challenge.
"It's kind of like walking on thin ice. The industry does what it has to do to survive, and the industry is getting more organized and educated all the time, and we're starting to see ways to fight back on this stuff," said Graves.
"We are working on it, and I believe that we will survive it. We have to survive it, because who else is going to keep the roads clear and clean and safe?"