Ontario’s Towing Woes Leave Truckers on the Hook

TORONTO, ON — There’s a patchwork of regulation when it comes to the towing industry— out of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, only a handful have towing regulations and even those are not harmonized and don’t properly regulate towing. As a result, certain issues such as a lack of standardized training and pricing arise, hurting both professional tow operators and consumers.

Now, the Ontario provincial government is looking to develop a province-wide system to oversee the heavy commercial towing sector.

“All you need to get towing is a DZ license, warm blood in your veins and a tow truck; that’s all you need,” says Doug Nelson, the executive director of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO).

The PTAO and the Ontario Recovery Group (ORG) have been working with the provincial government to regulate the industry since 2008.

“With regulation, tow trucks might be safer, hopefully be paid better and have better working conditions and reputation,” says Michael King, former heavy wrecker operator and now a service advisor with a Freightliner and Western Star dealer in Ontario.

According to Roadside Responders Association (RRA), 60 to 80 tow truck operators die annually, giving the industry the second highest occupational death rate per capita. 

Tow truck operators are almost as likely as law enforcement officers, fire personal and vehicle compliance officers to be killed on the job.

“I’m all for free market, for the opportunity to run a business, but for me, I think there should be some training required and there’s none. That’s what makes me nervous,” King says.

Other provinces don’t have the same regulatory problems as Ontario, Nelson says.

“In Montreal, they have designated towers looking after certain sections of the highway. They have a much improved traffic incident management system when it comes to towing,” Nelson says.

Money Woes

In the trucking industry, truck owners and drivers are responsible for the clean-up, Nelson says.

“A lot has changed in the towing industry in terms of laws and the environment has to be cleaned up properly. Many of those jobs are quite expensive,” he says.

And sometimes, trucking companies simply do not have that kind of money and insurance companies can deny coverage due to various issues. Non-payment became a huge issue in the towing industry and PTAO and ORG started a protest.

“When we went to the scene of the accident, we would find out who was going to pay, estimate the cost of the job and they’d have to put some money into the bank account,” Nelson says.

But that process held everyone up, he explains, so the Ontario Ministry of Transportation decided to guarantee payment to tow truck operators, even if the people involved in an accident renege on the bill or skip town.

The payment guarantee program continues today as long as the pricing is reasonable and the towing company is registered with the government, Nelson says. Under those circumstances, the government will step in and pay if collection proves futile after a certain period of time. 

Currently, towing companies may charge by the hour or individually for different services such as hook-up, inspection and drop charge. Hourly rates could be 150 to 200 dollars or 300 dollars for a truck and trailer unit, King says.

But there are “a number of bad tow operators out there whose goal is to capitalize on someone else’s mishap,” Nelson warns. 

 “There are some truckers that are being victimized with high pricing, especially in the greater Toronto region. If a truck breaks down, my advice to them is to get a quote in writing on where the vehicle will be towed to and how much it’s going to cost because there are definitely some bad apples working in the GTA,” Nelson says.

Regulation would guarantee a fair price whenever a truck driver called for a tow truck.

For tips on what to expect when waiting for a tow, read King’s Today’s Trucking column. 

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