That Toto Was a Troublemaker
By DON ARCHER
Toto was a troublemaker.
In the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow all shook in fear when confronting the Great and Powerful Oz. But Toto, Dorothy's little dog, was unafraid. He trotted over and pulled back the curtain revealing the truth.
In the September 2014 edition of American Towman magazine, Editor-in-Chief Steve Calitri does some revealing of his own. In his interview with AutoReturn CEO John Wicker, Calitri asks some hard-hitting questions that allow the reader to gain an insight into what's really in store for those thinking about partnering with AR.
AutoReturn, for those unfamiliar, is a third-party dispatching company based in San Francisco, Calif. If your city or state is contracted with them, instead of receiving a call from your local police dispatch when they need a tow, the police call AutoReturn. AutoReturn, in turn, calls whatever company has agreed to partner with them to respond. Some say it's similar to working for a motor club.
One of the questions Calitri asked in the interview pertains to a criticism that's been raised numerous times in the past. "Does AR pay the cities it's contracting with a significant fee per tow, at the expense of the tower?"
To that question, Wicker responded: "No. Some cities do want revenue ..." and, "...it's not at the expense of the tower."
Calitri continued, pointing out that at the most recent Las Vegas tow show, Wicker himself said that towers in the San Francisco area are paid, on average, $80 for light-duty tows. But the city's own published rate sheet shows that the motorist is charged $483 for that tow.
Calitri wanted to know where that money goes.
Immediately Wicker was on the defensive. He admitted that AR's fee is $130; but justified it by describing how costly it is to operate in San Francisco, mentioning the high price of real estate and saying, "We operate two locations, 24/7 & 365 ... in a competitive market."
And then, like the Wizard of Oz being outed by Toto, Wicker scrambled for control. He suggested that Calitri wasn't seeing what was truly important—pay no attention to the facts. "The important metric here," said Wicker, "is that, before AR, towers were getting only $42 per tow but now they make nearly 100-percent more."
Wicker then attempted to justify the low rates paid towers by mentioning the minutes it takes to arrive on scene, 12.17 and the miles traveled, two, on average.
But to do so is akin to the rationale many uneducated customers have when pricing a tow. They can't understand why the price is what it is when they only need to go a block, even when they're some 25 miles away. There are many more expenses and variables to consider that can't possibly be understood by an outsider.
Or could it be that Wicker believes towers are immune to these expenses? Towers who work in the same competitive market as he?
Try this: How long does it take to dispatch a call?
If it takes a grand total of two minutes to receive a call from a contracting city, decide what partner in that city to call and then dispatch that call—one of Wicker's dispatchers could do 30 calls in an hour. That's $3,900 per hour. How many tows can a tower do in one hour? One, maybe two?
Besides, when they are forced to work under fast-food-style towing conditions where they've got to keep hammering to pay the bills, there's little room for customer service. What if there are children with special needs, an elderly couple that can't ride in a tow truck or a large dog? We all know the pressures that law enforcement can put on you in those situations. Does AR compensate for those?
Let's take a closer look at the dollars in San Francisco:
Charge to the motorist: $483
Auto Return's Share: $130
Tower's Share: $ 80
City's Share: $273
Wicker has one thing right: $80 is more than $42. But what if AutoReturn wasn't there? What if the city dealt directly with the towers? Without a middleman in the way, AR's portion could go directly to the party doing the lion's share of the work—the towers.
Calitri's article "On the Hot Seat" gave AutoReturn more than a fair shake and allowed Wicker the opportunity to tout the benefits his company offers the towing industry. It's something every tower should read. At the end of the article is an invitation for all, who desire, to respond for their own opportunity to be heard in the November print edition.
(Read the article "The Hot Seat in Police Rotation" in the September 2014 issue of American Towman www.itowman.com
)Don Archer lives and works in Jefferson City, Mo., where he and his wife, Brenda, own and operate Broadway Wrecker, a 12-truck operation that's been in business since the 1950s. Email him at email@example.com.