POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 2, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 2:08 a.m. HST, Nov 2, 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.
WHERE TO FIND YOUR TOWED CAR
Leeward Auto Wreckers now handles all police-initiated tows on Oahu.It has five storage lots:
>> 91-209 Kuhela Ave., Kapolei
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.