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Old 12-29-2004, 06:49 PM   #1
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By Lianne Hart, Times Staff Writer


HOUSTON - It was noon Tuesday on Highway 59 near downtown, and the traffic was moving at warp speed. Cars and trucks barreled past Rafael Gonzalez, but he was going nowhere. His Range Rover had run out of gas, forcing the 43-year-old financial representative to push the car to the shoulder and call for help.

Thirty minutes later, he was still waiting.







"All these cars flying by - I could get whacked by one of them," Gonzalez said, his suit jacket flapping in the breeze.

Come Saturday, city leaders say, this scene should no longer play out in Houston, where a strict towing ordinance designed to keep the traffic moving and drivers out of harm's way will take effect. Under the law, if your car breaks down for any reason, a city-contracted wrecker should arrive within six minutes, tow your vehicle, then present a bill to you for at least $75. All freeways within the city limits will be, in effect, tow-away zones.

"This will ease congestion on our freeways, and as a community, we're saying that's important to our quality of life," city spokesman Patrick Trahan said.

Based loosely on a similar measure in New York City, Houston's ordinance, which passed in May, met resistance from independent tow truck drivers who feared losing business if their company did not get a city contract. Advocates for the poor pointed out that under the law, a car could be impounded if the driver could not immediately pay for the tow; to get their vehicle back, drivers would then have to pay not only the tow charge but storage fees for their car.

"The impact it will have on people who can least afford it is certainly an issue," said Houston Councilwoman Addie Wiseman, who voted against the measure. "And senior citizens traveling through Houston in recreational vehicles run the risk of having to pay $1,500 for a heavy tow fee if their mobile vacation homes break down. This ordinance is flawed in every sense of the word."

Two state lawmakers from Houston have talked to her about reviewing the measure after the Legislature convenes on Jan. 11, Wiseman said.

"No one is doubting the city's effort to keep traffic moving, but the objection that is being raised is the forced taking of personal property from the [freeway] shoulders," Wiseman said. "That's not city property - that's state property."

On Saturday, 11 city-contracted towing firms will begin cruising Houston's major freeways looking for stranded drivers. Cameras mounted on freeway light poles and police officers on patrol will help locate accidents and stalled cars.

Motorists can tell the wrecker driver where to tow the car, within 30 miles. Members of AAA and other auto clubs offering roadside assistance will not be allowed to wait for a private tow truck. That was news to Henry Martinez, 54, who was checking under the hood of his SUV at a gas station on Tuesday.

"My auto club guarantees they'll be there in 15 minutes, and you mean I can't wait for them?" he said. "They can tow the other guy, but don't tow me."

Real estate agent Tina Maddox was all for getting stalled cars off the road but, nevertheless, predicted disaster for the ordinance. "Houstonians love their cars, and those tow truck drivers better be careful," she said. "Somebody's going to get shot."

Back on Highway 59, Gonzalez just wanted to get to a business meeting before it ended. "I wish a tow truck would have shown up in six minutes today," he said. "I'd gladly pay the $75. Just get me out of
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Old 12-29-2004, 06:49 PM   #2
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By Lianne Hart, Times Staff Writer


HOUSTON - It was noon Tuesday on Highway 59 near downtown, and the traffic was moving at warp speed. Cars and trucks barreled past Rafael Gonzalez, but he was going nowhere. His Range Rover had run out of gas, forcing the 43-year-old financial representative to push the car to the shoulder and call for help.

Thirty minutes later, he was still waiting.







"All these cars flying by - I could get whacked by one of them," Gonzalez said, his suit jacket flapping in the breeze.

Come Saturday, city leaders say, this scene should no longer play out in Houston, where a strict towing ordinance designed to keep the traffic moving and drivers out of harm's way will take effect. Under the law, if your car breaks down for any reason, a city-contracted wrecker should arrive within six minutes, tow your vehicle, then present a bill to you for at least $75. All freeways within the city limits will be, in effect, tow-away zones.

"This will ease congestion on our freeways, and as a community, we're saying that's important to our quality of life," city spokesman Patrick Trahan said.

Based loosely on a similar measure in New York City, Houston's ordinance, which passed in May, met resistance from independent tow truck drivers who feared losing business if their company did not get a city contract. Advocates for the poor pointed out that under the law, a car could be impounded if the driver could not immediately pay for the tow; to get their vehicle back, drivers would then have to pay not only the tow charge but storage fees for their car.

"The impact it will have on people who can least afford it is certainly an issue," said Houston Councilwoman Addie Wiseman, who voted against the measure. "And senior citizens traveling through Houston in recreational vehicles run the risk of having to pay $1,500 for a heavy tow fee if their mobile vacation homes break down. This ordinance is flawed in every sense of the word."

Two state lawmakers from Houston have talked to her about reviewing the measure after the Legislature convenes on Jan. 11, Wiseman said.

"No one is doubting the city's effort to keep traffic moving, but the objection that is being raised is the forced taking of personal property from the [freeway] shoulders," Wiseman said. "That's not city property - that's state property."

On Saturday, 11 city-contracted towing firms will begin cruising Houston's major freeways looking for stranded drivers. Cameras mounted on freeway light poles and police officers on patrol will help locate accidents and stalled cars.

Motorists can tell the wrecker driver where to tow the car, within 30 miles. Members of AAA and other auto clubs offering roadside assistance will not be allowed to wait for a private tow truck. That was news to Henry Martinez, 54, who was checking under the hood of his SUV at a gas station on Tuesday.

"My auto club guarantees they'll be there in 15 minutes, and you mean I can't wait for them?" he said. "They can tow the other guy, but don't tow me."

Real estate agent Tina Maddox was all for getting stalled cars off the road but, nevertheless, predicted disaster for the ordinance. "Houstonians love their cars, and those tow truck drivers better be careful," she said. "Somebody's going to get shot."

Back on Highway 59, Gonzalez just wanted to get to a business meeting before it ended. "I wish a tow truck would have shown up in six minutes today," he said. "I'd gladly pay the $75. Just get me out of
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Old 12-30-2004, 10:02 AM   #3
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I do not consider this law to be unfriendly but rather one that I could support. To many time folks seem to think only of themselves and create real safety problems for every one else. Yes I have run out of fuel and even more than one time but after having to walk 10 miles I have not done it again but after writing this it will happen tomorrow.

Do not worry it will take an hour to get a tow truck big enough to tow some MHs - so the tow placess ought to get fined if they miss the six minute time frame.
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Old 12-30-2004, 04:43 PM   #4
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I dont know if I care for the way Houston is handling the problem with vehicles that break down on the freeway. If you cant pay on the spot, then your vehicle gets held hostage by the tow companies.

In the metroponlitan areas in California, we have what is called FSP - Freeway Service Patrol. They are tow trucks that are contracted by CalTrans to assist the CHP in clearing hazards from the roadway. Removing vehicles to the shoulder or towing them to the nearest off-ramp. They also fix flat tires and provide some gasoline to motorists who are silly enough to run out of gas. All of this is no charge to the person needing help. Our tax dollars at work.
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Old 12-30-2004, 08:38 PM   #5
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At least California has SOMETHING going for it
My Brother-in-law drove one of these FSP trucks for a while, I actually think he somewhat enjoyed it
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Old 12-31-2004, 05:53 PM   #6
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This is pretty much a general issue, not even strictly an RV-related one, so I'm moving this thread to General Discussion.
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Old 01-01-2005, 07:18 AM   #7
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Well i guess my next trip East will be on I-20 or I-40
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Old 01-01-2005, 08:27 AM   #8
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by baddwalk:

In the metroponlitan areas in California, we have what is called FSP - Freeway Service Patrol. They are tow trucks that are contracted by CalTrans to assist the CHP in clearing hazards from the roadway. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

My wife had the chance to use them. They took her to the first off ramp and into a parking lot then let AAA know where the car was and stayed with her unit AAA unit showed up. All at no cost. Gee I guess Calif aint so bad.
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Old 01-01-2005, 09:44 PM   #9
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There are a few things that we get right here in California. To bad the car pool lanes arent one of them.
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Old 01-02-2005, 12:17 PM   #10
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There is a simple solution to the Houston law.

It's as simple as "Bypass Houston". Take the long way around if you have to but stay out of Houston.
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Old 01-02-2005, 02:12 PM   #11
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Very interesting situation.

I wonder how it'd be handled if the stalled vehicles owner merely refused to allow the city-contracted wrecker to hook up to his or her vehicle? I wonder if the ordinance has provisions to make it illegal for wreckers other than those contracted by the city to respond.

I don't think I'd care to allow the city to tow my rig, that's why I have Good Sam ERS. Avoiding Houston altogether would be best plan to avoid such a scenario.
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Old 01-03-2005, 11:50 AM   #12
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Vehicle on the shoulder of the road is a hazard - ask any police officer...

If the police say 'tow it' it gets towed. Unless you want to go to jail while your car/rig is towed. Your choice.

If you call your RV tow outfit and they say we'll be there in two hours and the police say "no way --- not while there is a tow company 1 mile down the road" you get the local tow. (Mail bill to your tow coverage provider for refund).

Sounds like Houston is just attempting to make it easier to pass on the shoulder at 80 MPH.
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Old 01-03-2005, 05:23 PM   #13
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We were in Houston last week when this came out on the news. Apparently you don't get a choice, they will hook up and remove the vehicle. This will apply to wrecked vehicles as well. All too many folks will not move their vehicle with event minor sheet metal damage. For a number of years now, Texas has has a "steer it and clear it" policy if the vehicles could be moved. People wont't move them for fear of blame.

My issue with them "TRYING" to tow an RV off is that they will have small auto wreckers that are not equipped to latch on to something that weighs 20000# and move it safely. Are they going to liable for damage since they are not using the proper equipment to move my rig...get ready for a legal battle here folks.

While on the subject of Houston drivers...why not come down hard on the shoulder runners and red-light runners HARD. It is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 cars come through a red after you light has turned green. The solution for this is to make the yellows longer....Hello folks, I was taught that a red light means stop, not to speed up and se if you can get into the intersection while it is still yellow.

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Old 01-04-2005, 09:23 AM   #14
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And yet another good reason to stay out of Houston.

Happy Camping!
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