In Tampa, drinkers who’ve been parking their cars and finding sober
rides home have had their cars towed away by predatory tow truck drivers.
What many bar and restaurant patrons don’t realize is that they’re
protected by a consumer-friendly city ordinance, which is intended to
deter drunk driving.
10Investigates found that very few people even knew that it existed, including
property owners and the tow truck companies who’ve been making money
In an effort to dig deep into predatory towing, 10Investgates closely analyzed
thousands of impounds in the Tampa region. The investigation revealed
that by far, most of the cars towed in 2015 were from 533 S. Howard Avenue,
near Tampa’s bustling nightlife district.
In 2015 alone, nearly 300 vehicles were towed out of the plaza, which is
home to Koto Japanese Steakhouse, and $10 parking for anyone who wants
to patronize SoHo’s other establishments.
Most vehicles were towed between 5 and 9 am, a few hours after most drinkers
found a safe ride home.
10Investigates found that in almost every tow from that particular lot
2008 city of Tampa ordinance went into effect, was prohibited. Under the 2008 city ordinance, towing
companies cannot tow vehicles from parking lots of restaurants and bars
where people are allowed to consume alcohol on the premises.
The purpose of the ordinance is to give bar patrons who’ve been drinking
the incentive to find a safe, sober ride home, so they can return to pick
up their vehicles the following day before noon.
How effective is the ordinance if the public has no idea it exists and
it’s never been enforced?
10Investigates learned that the wrecker operator patrolling 533 S. Howard
Ave. didn’t know about it, and neither did the county’s Public
Transportation Commission, or Tampa’s city staffers.
What does the city ordinance say?
Under the 2008 city ordinance, it’s unlawful for property owners
or lessees who sell or let people consume alcohol on their premises to
cause any vehicle parked on their property to be towed away between 9:00
p.m. and noon, unless the establishment provides a signed order of removal
for the tow truck driver.
In other words, a property owner can sign an order to have a vehicle towed
away, but tow truck drivers can’t go around patrolling bar or restaurant
parking lots to remove vehicles on their own accord.
The catch is that not many people in Tampa know about this protection for
bar and restaurant patrons.
In South Tampa where parking is costly, many people are afraid of having
their cars towed away, and that plays a factor in whether they decide
to drive home after a night of drinking.
We can safely assume that for every car that’s wrongfully towed away
from 533 S. Howard Ave., there are dozens more people who drive home after
drinking at one of the popular nightspots on Howard Ave. because they
don’t want their cars towed away.
Fortunately 10Investigates has raised awareness about the 2008 city ordinance,
and hopefully word will spread fast throughout the community, allowing
drinkers to finally take advantage of their protections.
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