September 26, 2005
What happens to the stranded cars?

The following came to me in email. I have not heard of anything similar to this, and I haven't had a chance to do any news searching to see if there are other reports. I'm printing this to see if anyone reading this has any information.


Someone who came into my office said he missed his friday visit because he had to pick up his stranded brother who ran out of gas south of Dallas. Well now, his brother's car was towed, and he can't afford to get it. $550. How many others who were forced out and had to leave vehicles are going to be screwed by this? Is this gouging or at least taking advantage of people. State approved?

As I say, this is the first I've heard of anything like this. Certainly, under normal circunstances, cars which are abandoned on interstate highways will eventually be towed, and the cost to get them back will be several hundred dollars. I'm sure there were and still are quite a few cars along I-10 and I-45 which were left behind after running out of gas during the evacuation. How should they be treated? What would be a reasonable fee for the agencies that did the towing? Those cars do represent a highway hazard, after all. What do you think?

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, this Chron story has an answer:


Evacuees forced to leave cars along freeways because they broke down or ran out of gas may face another nightmare paying expensive tow and storage fees to get them back.

It all depends on location. If the car was left on a highway within Houston, the city will pay the bill.

Anywhere else, you're on your own.

Frank Michel, the city's communication director, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the city $124 for each car towed under its Safe Clear mandatory tow program.

"The tow operators have agreed to do away with the rest of the fees," Michel said.

[...]

More than 600 vehicles were towed from freeways. Most were taken to private storage lots. Those towed since Saturday morning were taken to Metro's Park & Ride, 7821 N. Shepherd, where no fee will be assessed.

More than 150 vehicles were at the Park & Ride on Sunday afternoon. To find out where your car is, call 713-884-3131.

"If jurisdictions are allowing us to bring vehicles back, we are," Houston police Capt. Lori Bender said, adding that the city has retrieved residents' cars from Montgomery County and Jersey City.

If people have paid to get their car out of storage, they can ask for a refund, Bender said. The city will then reimburse the storage lots with FEMA money.

The city has not gotten complaints about price gouging, Bender said.

"We aren't aware of any," she said. "It's too soon to know. A lot of people haven't picked up their cars yet they are still worried about getting their lights back on."


So there you go. Check Melissa's comment below for some suggestions if your experience differs from this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 26, 2005 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack
Comments

There was an article in today's paper (Chron.) about this--if the car was towed in the city, Houston is going to request the tow fee from FEMA and the tow folks will waive any difference. Outside of the city, one is on one's own, but I would keep receipts and submit them to the insurance co. or even maybe FEMA, before it is over. $550 seems excessive, and I would call your elected officials--senator, state rep--that is what they are for--and raise heck and ask for their help. If it is inside the city, call your councilperson's number. If it is in a municipality besides Houston, they issue the bids for towing--call the municipality gov't.

I will check who regulates tow stuff and get back. Wouldn't hurt to call the appropriate agency; price gouging is illegal in a situation like this. Meanwhile, keep the receipt. Call your rep/senator. Call the Gov. Use the government we are are paying for, and which is supposed to work for all of us.

Posted by: Melissa on September 26, 2005 3:05 PM

I heard that some cars that were stranded as people left before Rita were towed and that the City was not going to charge people for the SafeClear towing. The Chron has an article about that: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/3369441

Unfortunately, it's only for cars that were stranded within city limits. Pretty much sucks for people who had to leave their cars outside the city. I hope the city and state figure out how to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

Posted by: Sue on September 26, 2005 3:56 PM

I say send the bill for all of it to Rick Perry since his plan to have fuel trucks on the side of the highway never came to fruition.

It still continues to amaze me how callous people can be in the wake of a crisis; especially when those same people that are responsible for planning, resourcing and executing disaster relief plans are completely incompetent.

Posted by: rgrdave on September 26, 2005 4:18 PM

Everyone shares in this. Even though the hurricane passed the city, even though there were way too many people on the road at once--some for legitimate reasons, others because they were simply fearful--the people who evacuated should not have to pay such outrageous fees. It is not fair to blame these people for running out of gas when the highways were unreasonably congested. What took officials so long to open the southbound lanes for northbound traffic?

The city and the state should arrange with the towing companies to pay the towing companies a reasonable fee for bringing in the vehicles left on the road because of the storm. I feel certain that the towing companies would be able to tell which vehicles had been abandoned on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and which had been there before the evacuation was ordered. What is the "actual cost" of towing and impounding a car?

And what about the other "costs" incurred by these evacuees? I'll bet a lot of them don't get paid if they don't show up for work. Are they going to able to pay the bills this month? More people than we care to admit live paycheck-to-paycheck; are they going to be able to get by? Or will they slip even further behind? New Orleans doesn't have the market cornered on people living in poverty, ya' know.

You can ask the owner of the car to pay a percentage of the cost of towing, not to exceed, say, $50 to $75, but the state and the city should pick up the balance on this one. We can chalk it up to a learning experience, especially since the damage to the state is far less than it could have been. (And I am NOT minimizing what happened in Beaumont and Port Arthur!)

Posted by: kelley on September 26, 2005 4:23 PM

Send the bill to Governor Goodhair. He's got to spend that much money on hair products.

Posted by: johnr on September 26, 2005 5:42 PM