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Philly's most famous tow-truck driver: City is picking on us

Famous Philly tow-truck driver Lew Blum responds to "How to Fix Philly."
Lew Blum, center, Philly's most well-known towing company operator, with friends. He says the city is picking on him unfairly. (Courtesy of Lew Blum)

With the launch of Metro’s new column, “How to Fix Philly,” the newspaper looked at the efforts City Council is making to combat concerns about illegal towing in the city.

Needless to say, the column rankled some in the private towing industry, most notably, towing company magnate Lew Blum.

For decades, Blum has been something of a Philadelphia staple. If you’ve driven around Philadelphia, you’ve doubtlessly seen the myriad "no parking" signs for Blum’s company around town.

On Wednesday, Blum spoke to Metro to share his thoughts on the new legislation that requires private tow-truck drivers to have cars ticketed by authorized agencies before any vehicle in the city can be towed.

“This Council is totally unfair to the towing companies,” Blum said.

Blum was quick to point out that while towing companies are being targeted by City Council with new efforts to combat residents’ complaints – like a pending bill aimed at stopping price gouging at crashes and by creating an online database of private parking sign locations – the city itself is making money on every car stowed in a towing company’s lot, as well.

The city, he noted, gets a 22.5 percent tax on any vehicle left in a parking garage or in storage at a towing lot for over 24 hours.

“They are the ones gouging their own citizens,” said Blum of that tax. “That’s why the parking [costs are] so high in Philadelphia.”

In discussing a recent bill spearheaded by City Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez (D-7th dist.), which now requires any car towed in Philadelphia by a private towing company to be ticketed by an authorized agency – before this year, tow-truck operators could simply take photos of vehicles prior to a tow – Blum said that the bill was an overreaction to what he believed was an isolated problem.

He said that residents’ complaints of fake no parking signs, or stories of towing companies moving cars into no parking zones in order to tow them, were likely “all bull.”

“That’s just far-fetched,” he said when asked about the complaints. “They are just making it up as they go along.”

Instead, he said that – even before passage of Quiñones-Sánchez’s bill – private tow operators contacted the police before any tow to find out if vehicles were stolen or if they were involved in a crime. Only after contacting police would they then be able to take photos and tow a vehicle.

Any private towing company that wasn’t doing its due diligence should instead be hit with fines, not a new bill that, Blum said, punishes all private towing companies.

“All the city needs to do is fine the bad guys, just like the police do,” said Blum.

By requiring private towing companies to require tickets on vehicles prior to a tow, Blum said that his drivers are finding that some agencies are claiming they don’t have authority to write a ticket for a given vehicle, or his drivers are unable to get ticketing officials to come to their locations in a timely manner, making tow-truck drivers wait upwards of two hours, he said.

“City Council has lied to you,” said Blum. “We can’t get the tickets. … This is no good. They aren’t writing tickets for private tow.”

Even when they can get an authorized agency to come to vehicles they plan to tow, Blum said often times officers who do come to write a ticket will dispute the need for a tow or will contact the vehicle’s owner and allow them to move the vehicle, depriving his drivers of the work.

“These tickets are hurting the towing industry,” Blum said. “But it’s also hurting property owners.”

He noted that private property owners hang signs for his company by their own choice and call his company for towing. And, he said, in many cases – like issues at an Acme at 10th and Reed streets in South Philly – illegal parkers are given a warning before vehicles are towed.

“How is tow the predator when we warn people?” asked Blum.