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Towing companies speak up about abandoned vehicles

LIHUE — Kaua‘i taxpayers have paid well over $2 million over the last five years to remove abandoned and derelict vehicles from the island.

And at least two tow-truck company owners wonder how those figures were obtained.

James Henriques of The Tow Truck LLC and Roger Ridgley Jr. of A Tow in Paradise questioned the county figure of nearly $500,000 for removing abandoned and derelict vehicles in fiscal 2019.

“Whenever I see the number of half a million or $400,000 from the county, I get curious how they got their figures. They don’t add up. We don’t even make that much money.”

When asked about the abandoned vehicle annual expenses, county Director of Finance Reiko Matsuyama, a member of the County Abandoned Vehicles Task Force, shared a table put together for the County Council last year.

According to the chart, in the FY2019 the county spent $291,119 to pay Resource Recovery Recycling, operator of the Puhi Metals Recycling center, $128,648 to towing companies with contracts, $68,666 on staffing, and $2,845 on advertising and fuel, totaling $491,278.

Matsuyama said the per-vehicle charge varies drastically based on circumstance and location on the island.

Henriques said the state has a maximum cap on the charge a towing company can assess for an abandoned vehicle, non-consensual towing.

“So I want to say the destination is the recycling center and the car is abandoned one mile down the street,” Henriques said. “According to the state law, you can only charge $65 per hook and $7.50 a mile, so that tow will be around $72.50, which doesn’t even cover expenses. So it’s one of those things if you are in Hanalei, now it’s roughly a $300 tow that covers expenses.”

Ridgley said if a tow is in Lihu‘e, Kapa‘a or Lawa‘i, the price he gets won’t cover expenses.

“To me the biggest issue with that state law is that it is stagnant,” Henriques said. “Those $65 rates, with inflation alone, you can’t make any money.”

Ridgley suggested the county offer a bounty incentive rate to the people to bring these cars in.

“Yeah, they are going to pay out $50 to $100 per car but they are going to save on the abandon-car rate,” Ridgley said. “Whenever I see the number of half a million or $400,000 from the county, I get curious how they got their figures. They don’t add up. We don’t even make that much money.”

Treating the
towers fairly

“We want to work in a positive light with the county because we’d like to solve this (abandon vehicle) problem and ultimately we just want to clear our names of being associated with ‘Tow companies are the problem,’” said Henriques.

“Most of us, probably the majority of us, are trying to do it the right way, and just typically a few bad apples ruin it. And when the task force comes out with a statement we are the problem, it’s like, yeah.”

During the Kaua‘i County Council abandoned vehicle task force presentation, it was stated that “Tow companies are part of the problem. They are double-dipping, not in compliance with state regulations, with no ability to regulate them.”

Ridgley echoed Henriques and wants to clear their names, as well as point out other abandoned-vehicle issues they face with the county and state.

“Here is the thing: The companies that would benefit from double-dipping are the ones that have a contract,” said Ridgley. “Where it is saying that tow companies are a part of the problem, we are not a part of the problem. I have been trying to fix this problem since 1996. I have articles on this in 1996. There is a lot of things going on with these abandoned cars for years.

“What happens is you get a task force together, then people go on to different positions, so then it falls back down again. There are so many things that can be done. The county doesn’t seem to be doing that,” Ridgley said.

When the task force was asked why they decided to use this verbiage in their presentation, the task force responded via email and said that customers have complained that their vehicles are taking days to arrive at the Puhi Metals Recycling center.

“When vehicles arrive, they are stripped of their parts,” CAVTF said. “ This deprives Resource Recovery Solutions of valuable parts that make vehicle disposal viable on Kaua‘i.”

Henriques says that it takes the county a long time to contact them before they actually pick up an abandoned vehicle. This time allows for the vehicle to be stripped before tow operators ever arrive on scene.

Unenforced rules

“The frustrating part about all of this is that they say there are no repercussions, but there is laws in place stating that dumping a vehicle is illegal regardless of towing companies or private operators,” Henriques said. “You can’t just dump a vehicle. So when they say there is no repercussion for the tow companies double-dipping dumping of vehicles, that’s basically not true.”

Henriques said if the county did enough research into the abandoned vehicles, they could find out who picked up the car and find out how it ended up on the end of the road.

“I agree that abandoned vehicles is a problem,” Henriques said. “But their choice of words to me was terrible. And if they are aware of the problem, why can’t they solve the problem?”

Henriques also said if someone is double-dipping, then they are contracted, and they are breaching their contract with the county, and it should be an avenue the county can take to regulate those not following the rules.

To Henriques, there are so many ways to address the abandoned-vehicle issue, yet he is puzzled how the county came to the conclusion that they are the problem.

“If we could get their insight as to how they came to that conclusion, and if they do have proof that’s happening, why is there no response?” asked Henriques. “Why is there no repercussion for the company that is breaking the contract and is illegal dumping vehicles? It is pretty straightforward from my point of view.

“Also, why create a task force strictly about abandon vehicles related to towing and not involve any towers and then throw all towers under the bus to get run over and not be able to defend ourselves?” asked Henriques.

According to Ridgley, he was asked to join the task force when it was created.

“I was asked by Reiko, the county finance director, and I talked to officer (Kaua‘i Police Department Deputy Chief Mark) Begley, but I heard never nothing afterward,” Ridgley said.

Going forward

The county task force is working to come up with a solution to work with tow companies in the near future.

According to CAVTF, they are developing educational materials and an information request form to allow tow operators to submit their concerns and questions about vehicle disposal. A discussion specifically with two operators may be an option for a future task force meeting.

“The task force has met with tow operators in the past, and the feedback was to require tighter restrictions and more oversight to ensure that all companies are operating properly and following all state and county laws for vehicle disposal,” CAVTF noted.

The task force also confirmed that they have an abandoned and derelict vehicles coordinator.

“She does the documentation necessary to properly dispose of all cars, boats and other vehicles left on roadways and on county property,” CAVTF said. “Police officers do most of the tagging and initial paperwork.”

Title transfer loophole

Both Ridgley and Henriques suggest that the original owners, when selling their cars with their title and the new owners go down to the county together to transfer the title so the original owner is not liable for the abandoned vehicle owned by the next owner.

“’Cause right now it’s a huge loophole, where you sell me your car, I don’t transfer the title, by you signing the top piece of the title, it releases you of liability but it doesn’t place liability on me. That’s the catch 22,” Henriques said.

Ridgley agreed, and added, “It would come back to you. In other words, if you sign that top of the piece of the title and you never turn it in, it’s still registered to you. Or if you turn that top piece of the title to the county and they lose it, which happens quite often, it still comes back registered to you because that little top piece of paper was never transferred out of your name.”

The county task force said they will be taking input from tow operators and are eager to hear from operators who are following state laws and county regulations to see what issues everyone is having.

All tow companies are encouraged to submit comments and concerns through the county’s information request form when it becomes available, or they can email the mayor’s office at mayor@kauai.gov.

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Stephanie Shinno, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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