City Government and Local Government and Government & Economic Development and Government and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

City panel tables approval of new towing contract

May 24, 2013

The Indianapolis Board of Code Enforcement put off voting on a new citywide towing-management contract Thursday after members said they wanted more information about the bids from San Francisco-based AutoReturn and its local competitors.

“In light of what’s happened in city government in the last week, we need more oversight,” board member Susan Blair said, referencing the federal indictments of two Department of Metropolitan Development employees alleged to have accepted kickbacks in Land Bank deals.

Code enforcement staff is recommending AutoReturn for a five-year contract to manage about 29,000 city-ordered tows per year. Currently, three local firms, Last Chance Wrecker, Wheeler's and Hanna's, split most of the towing work according to their assigned zones, which align with police districts.

AutoReturn uses GPS technology to deploy local towing subcontractors under what would be a brand-new system, which is supposed to streamline the service. The management contract would consolidate city towing services under one manager for the first time, said Kate Johnson, deputy director of the Department of Code Enforcement. AutoReturn already has worked out deals with local subcontractors, some of which would have their first chance to earn city business, she said.

The city would be guaranteed revenue of $1.5 million a year under terms of the request for proposals issued in December. Code enforcement officials would not discuss terms of AutoReturn’s proposal or name the other bidders.

Marc Lloyd, an attorney representing Last Chance, said his client was one of three local firms that bid. He didn’t know the names of the other two.

The city averages about $1.2 million per year in towing revenue, which comes from a $45 fee that the contracted firms pay when they receive a referral from police. The money flows to the Department of Public Safety and offsets the cost of police officers' time, Johnson said.

The fee to vehicle owners on all city-ordered tows is capped at $90.

Code enforcement spokesman Adam Baker said he could not discuss whether that fee would increase under AutoReturn’s proposal.

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