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City taps 1 firm for police-led tows

By Rob Perez

LAST UPDATED: 02:08 a.m. HST, Nov 02, 2012

The city has hired a single vendor to handle all police-initiated vehicle tows on Oahu, a new approach designed to improve a service that over the years has generated numerous motorist complaints, lawsuits, fines and an ongoing criminal fraud investigation.

On Thursday, Leeward Auto Wreckers Inc. became the exclusive vendor under a five-year contract for all accident, parking violation, stolen-vehicle recovery and other tows directed by the Hono­lulu Police Department.

This is the first contract the company has had for HPD-initiated tows, and that lack of experience has raised concerns among consumers and executives with other tow companies.

Under the old system, the city had agreements with five tow companies, and each vendor had exclusive rights to one or more of the 13 tow zones on Oahu.

Under the new agreement signed last month, Oahu essentially became a single zone, and Leeward Auto pays the city $60,000 monthly for exclusive rights to all HPD-initiated tows on the island.


Leeward Auto Wreckers now handles all police-initiated tows on Oahu.It has five storage lots:

>> 91-209 Kuhela Ave., Kapolei
>> 904 Kohou St., Kalihi
>> 905 Kalanianaole Highway, Kapaa Quarry, Kailua
>> 322-B Palm St., Wahiawa
>> 92-1268 Waihona St., Pearl City

Source: City and County of Honolulu

The company's only previous experience with city contracts was to tow abandoned and derelict vehicles, according to industry officials.

Leeward Auto, which beat out four other bidders for the contract, didn't respond to two phone requests Thursday seeking comment.

The city switched to the new system specifically so it would have to deal with only one vendor and one zone, believing the change would result in an improved towing operation and better service to motorists.

"The one-contractor system has worked in other jurisdictions and is more efficient," Dennis Kami­mura, the city's motor vehicle licensing administrator, said in a written statement.

Rather than HPD trying to determine the location of a vehicle and which towing company to contact under the old system, police deal with only a single vendor responsible for dispatching tow trucks within 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the location, according to Kami­mura.

He said the city doesn't have concerns about Leeward Auto's ability to handle tows for the entire island, saying that the company was able to respond to all HPD calls Thursday and that police were satisfied with the service.

But given the past problems and the city's difficulties in managing the old system, some motorists questioned how successful the new one will be.

"I think it's going to go from bad to worse," said Richard Rasmussen, a general contractor who had a bad experience with a tow company last year.

Executives involved with the unsuccessful bids for the new contract questioned why the city would turn over responsibility for the entire island to a company with no experience dealing with HPD tows.

Hauling away derelict and abandoned cars, which often are not reclaimed by owners, is far different from towing cars, some new, that will be reclaimed, they said.

"This is an absolute concern for the public," said Paul Perry, an ex-police officer and owner of All Island Automotive Towing, which was involved with one of the losing bids. "I strongly believe the city has jeopardized the safety of the public's property."

Barney Robinson, who owns a gas station and towing business and also was involved with the same unsuccessful bid as Perry, questioned whether Leeward Auto would be able to turn a profit under the new contract — a concern echoed by others in the industry.

Robinson cited the depressed state of the industry, the $60,000 monthly fee, the company's agreement to cap towing charges at $165 — excluding storage fees — and no increases in other tow rates.

"We hope (Leeward Auto) does well because this is our industry and we want to be protective of it," Robinson said. "But it's difficult to imagine how this is all going to add up."

In addition to the monthly premium, Leeward Auto also has agreed to pay the city $33.50 for each car that goes unclaimed and is not sold at public auction.

The company will tow vehicles to one of five storage lots it has around Oahu.

The awarding of the Leeward Auto contract is the latest development for a city service that has been tainted by controversy, much of it due to Stoneridge Recoveries.

Stoneridge, which used to have exclusive rights to Oahu's busiest tow zone, stretching from downtown to Maka­puu, was replaced last year after eight years and many complaints about its service.

The company is the target of a criminal fraud investigation by the state Insurance Division. The probe was triggered after auto insurers said questionable billing practices by Stoneridge led to inflated bills for some motorists.

A division spokes­woman Thursday said the investigation is continuing.

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MalamaKaAina wrote:
Nothing new here folks, one firm gets a monopoly, move along.
on November 2,2012 | 02:07AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Yup, nothing new.
on November 2,2012 | 05:42AM
soundofreason wrote:
Yeah, what could go wrong with THAT?!! Competition breeds excellence. On that note....does anyone have HECO'S number handy?
on November 2,2012 | 06:38AM
2_centz wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on November 2,2012 | 08:36AM
soundofreason wrote:
fun fun fun
on November 2,2012 | 06:59PM
bender wrote:
I think an exclusive 5 year contract will generate even more complaints than the old system. Who would be stupid enough to enter a 5 year contract with a company that has no track record except for performing for one day only is bad business. How will the city end the contract if Leeward fails to provide timely service. Handing out an island wide contract for this period of time makes one wonder whose palms were greased, and that reeks of more corruption instead of less. I guess the tow operators will have a license to rip off the public as they choose.
on November 2,2012 | 06:00AM
soundofreason wrote:
There's never been a contract the city is willing to issue..........and have US pay for the shortcomings later. Rail?........anyone?
on November 2,2012 | 06:39AM
bobbob wrote:
cannot be worse than stoneridge
on November 2,2012 | 07:07AM
loquaciousone wrote:
If they are then we should start our own reality tv show called Towing Wars.
on November 2,2012 | 07:15AM
bobbob wrote:
city could probably tow for free with all the revenue from the show. Let see: swindling old ladies out of a "drop fee", getting chased by angry mokes, Telling someone they owe $200 for a tow 3 hours ago and watching their reaction at the tow yard, going through the car to see what goodies they have, scoring "freebies" such as stereos and speakers, then playing innocent tow truck driver. "Sir, that gaping hole where your deck used to be was already like that when we hitched it up".
on November 2,2012 | 12:39PM
McCully wrote:
Let's hold judgement on Leeward and wait on any comments after 6 months. Who knows, Leeward might be a better towing company.
on November 2,2012 | 07:14AM
irenefernie wrote:
It doesnt take a rocket scientists brain to know that there is NO way one two company can take on the work load of 5 previous companies. One day of being able to handle the work load doesnt insure they will in the future. This decision to go with one company will be a disaster for the state and the people of Hawaii. Let wait and watch this blow-up in the states face.
on November 2,2012 | 08:06AM
iwanaknow wrote:
And if everyone followed the rules, there would be no towing and these guys would have a very small paycheck?
on November 2,2012 | 08:43AM
SaySomethingNow wrote:
So.... what number does John and Jane Q. Public have to call to find which lot their car was towed to?
on November 2,2012 | 12:05PM
KelleeMalia wrote:
Whose cousin got the job? Such a terrible idea!
on November 2,2012 | 01:03PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Rather than HPD trying to determine the location of a vehicle and which towing company to contact under the old system, police deal with only a single vendor...

Wow. That was really hard on the cops. Having to determine the location of a vehicle. Maybe they could have the detectives handle this investigation. I mean, using the computer in the car with Google maps would have been too much for the ordinary beat cop.

on November 2,2012 | 03:21PM
niimi wrote:
Boy this county loves monopolies.
on November 2,2012 | 07:11PM
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