A fledgling organiz-ation made up of towing companies throughout the state is hoping to stretch its wings during the upcoming legislative session.

Independent Towers of Washington (ITOW) is preparing to lobby the 2000 Legislature, pushing its primary agenda—changes in the rules so that towing companies no longer get stuck with the costs associated with removing abandoned vehicles from alongside the roadways.

Companies on the state’s rotating list get calls when vehicles need to be towed from public highways and roads, explains John J. O’Callahan, ITOW’s executive director. If the car’s owner has not abandoned the vehicle or has insurance, the towing companies usually are paid for their services. But when a car is abandoned, the towing company takes it back to its lot, where it must be stored 30 days before the tower can take steps to get rid of the vehicle, usually at its own cost, O’Callahan explains.

“They have to clean it out, then take it to a wrecking yard, where sometimes they even have to pay when they drop it off,” O’Callahan says.

“There isn’t a big market for recycled metal anymore, so the salvage yards don’t even want them,” adds Bill Pearson, owner of AMT Automotive and Towing in Olympia. “It’s difficult getting rid of them. And for the people who leave their cars, it’s a free garbage service. It’s just a real nightmare for us.”

Technically, O’Callahan says, towing companies can choose not to remove an abandoned vehicle, but if they refuse the tow, they can be removed from the list of companies that will be called upon—and that can mean a substantial drop in their business.

Though O’Callahan can’t say what percentage of the calls towing companies answer involve abandoned vehicles, he reports that 300 abandoned cars are towed each day in the state.

“They’re forcing independent businesses to clean up after them,” O’Callahan complains. “Towing companies have a choice—but they have no choice.”

ITOW’s proposal calls for changing the rules to allow police to cite the owner of an abandoned vehicle for littering. If found to legally responsible for the vehicle at the time of abandonment, the owner would pay a minimum fine ranging from $250 to $4,000, plus towing fees. If the fees are not paid, the owners would lose his or her license to drive.

“We have a good response from the Legislature and the police so far,” O’Callahan says. “The law’s all there, it’s just not being used. If you throw a Coke can out the window, you get cited, but if you leave your car, it’s free. People purposely leave cars to avoid going to the junkyard.”

Another organization, the Washington Tow Truck Assn., already exists but it’s not addressing the issue, O’Callahan says. So far, ITOW has more than a dozen members and is growing, he adds.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff