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Three-time cancer survivor is doing what he loves
App, web-based service provides lien-holder contact information
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Unit designed to bring greater awareness to Move Over law
Buddy's gets farmer's tractor with corn silage in open field
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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingAugust 23 - August 29, 2017

City, State
RATES
North:
Bronx, NY
$125
(Pop. 1,438,159)
South:
Charlotte, NC
$85
(Pop. 809,958)
East:
Baltimore, MD
$85
(Pop. 622,104)
West:
San Jose, CA
$200
(Pop. 1,015,785)
Light-Duty nonconsensual tow rates as provided by Police Towers of America.
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Shady Politics in Buffalo

BuffaloBy DON ARCHER

The Federal investigation into the pay-to-tow scam—alleged to be the norm when dealing with law enforcement at accident scenes in Buffalo, N.Y.—has resulted in a silver lining for the city and a boost to their bottom line, causing them to be regarded by some in the towing industry as the "Teflon Town."

Although some towers have been arrested and one has lost his life, not one police officer has been formally indicted. Even with this summer's suicide of Police Officer Jeffrey DeMott, who was under federal investigation for bribery and accepting kickbacks for information related to accidents, and numerous allegations of payoff demands from more than 20 other city employees, charges of corruption have yet to be filed against any city official, according to local newspapers.

In an unusual twist, one of the towers arrested, Jim Mazzariello Jr., of Jim Mazz Auto Inc., was the first to alert city officials to the questionable conduct of some of its police officers long before the December 2012 federal investigation of his business. Mazzariello hired an attorney way back in 2004 to look into the matter. The then-mayor supposedly addressed those allegations at the time; some time later Jim Mazz Auto Inc. was removed from the city's towing list for no apparent cause. Absent any official statement from the city, it looks like someone at City Hall didn't appreciate the allegations of wrong-doing. Mazzariello believes he's in trouble now because he wanted to stop the corruption he alleged had spread city-wide.

In the Aug. 11, 2013, edition of the "Buffalo News," about the tower's troubles, an unidentified driver describes how prevalent the bribes were: "You'd see a bunch of tow trucks pull up at an accident. An officer would be there in charge. One tower would hand the officer some money," and the officer "would order all the other towers to leave."

In an effort to address the problems of corruption and contend with what the City believed to be the real issue—the "Wild West" nature of towers responding to accident scenes—Buffalo's new mayor, Byron Brown, had some fresh ideas:
1. The City purchased their own tow trucks and began paying city employees to respond to accidents.
2. When the City tow trucks couldn't respond, they contracted with two other towing companies that would pick up the slack, excluding all others.
3. The City required that all accident vehicles be brought back to the City Impound Lot and not to a body shop, residence or private tow lot.

All three steps have proven to be a boost to the City's revenue, raising impoundment fees alone from $461,000 collected to more than $1.1 million.

Mazzariello had a problem. Other towing companies had advantages over him that had nothing to do with price or quality. The playing field was not level because of alleged kickbacks. He attempted to go through the proper channels to solve the problem but was labeled a troublemaker and removed from the city's towing list. In an effort to stay in business, he claimed he conformed and provided bribes as well. This resulted in an investigation and ultimately his arrest.

The city had a problem in Mazzariello attempting to tell it how to run its business. It seems they solved it.

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 don@broadwaywrecker.com.
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Doing Away with Credit Card Fees

15 0bf10By Don G. Archer

What once was considered a cost of doing business is now a thing of the past.

In 2005, 7 million business owners sued Visa and Master Card over service agreements. They claimed the credit card companies were forcing them to bear all the fees incurred when customers used their cards to make purchases.

As a condition of accepting their cards, Visa and Master Card told business owners that they could not pass these costs down to the consumer. They couldn't even steer them to less expensive payment options. If they did so, they would lose their ability to accept their cards.

When this was going on, I owned a convenience store and knew nothing about the suit; but I felt the pinch. A load of gas would come in off the tanker and it might cost me $2.45 per gallon. I would retail it, in step with the other gas stations in my area, at $2.49. This meant that if a customer paid with cash I would get four cents per gallon; but if they paid with a credit card ... well, that's another story.

Depending upon the card used, I would pay anywhere from 2.5 percent to 4 percent of the purchase. This meant, as a business owner barred from passing these costs down, it cost me money to sell them gas. At $2.49, the credit card fees would have been between six to nine cents per gallon, which meant I was losing between two to five cents per gallon.

Why should a business owner pay extra fees based on the type of payment used? It might have made sense in the past. If your business was the only one in the area accepting credit cards, you had an advantage. When profits were higher and margins weren't as slim you could afford these fees; but in this economy where everyone accepts credit cards, there's no need for business owners to continue to pay.

Fast-forward a few years to 2011. I'm out of the gas business, the attorneys have finally quit squabbling and justice has prevailed. Visa and Master Card are ordered to pay back some $6 billion. They were also sent back to the drawing board to rewrite their service agreements, with direction to allow business owners to pass on their fees.

But like any good movie, this can't be the end.

With the precision of surgeons, the Visa and Master Card lackeys began dissecting every word in the judge's decree looking for a "legal" way to comply with the ruling and bring in more revenue.

They rewrote their service agreements to allow business owners the option of passing their fees onto the consumer—as a surcharge.

As a result, the credit card companies were still charging business owners a transaction fee on top of what they were collecting. That fee was bigger due to the surcharge.

To illustrate: With the new service agreements, if you had a $100 sale and added a 3-percent surcharge to the customer, the credit card company will then charge the business owner somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 percent or 4 percent for the entire amount.

($100 x 3 percent = customer pays $103 x 4 percent charged by the credit card company = $104.12.)

This $100 sale nets the credit card company $4.12, and the business owner is still paying $1.12 of it. The numbers may be hard to digest but the gist was—the business owners were still losing out.

After numerous complaints, the Justice Department stepped in and sued the credit card companies. Visa and Master Card quickly settled; after a seven-week trial in 2014, it was ruled that American Express had violated anti-trust laws. Things began to change.

The ruling opened the door for businesses throughout the U.S. to pass on all those fees. My towing business was doing more than $60,000 per month in credit and debit card transactions. If this has taken place from the start, I could have saved more than $2,000 per month.

When I first learned about the changes in the law, I was skeptical. I called the company that did my credit card processing, and they had no idea what I was talking about. It seems that this is so new that only a handful of companies are doing it. They're all using the software of a company called SignaPay, who claim to be the only legally compliant software available.

As far as the viability of passing credit card fees down to towing customers, that's a whole other discussion; but if anybody out there is using this already and saving loads of money, I'm sure others would like to know about it.

American Towman Field Editor-Midwest Don G. Archer is also a multi-published author, educator and speaker helping others to build and start successful towing businesses around the country at TheTowAcademy.com. Don and his wife, Brenda, formerly owned and operated Broadway Wrecker in Jefferson City, Mo. E-mail him direct at don@thetowacademy.com.
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