ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Calvin Deardorff spends most of his time in his tow truck waiting for people who need a lift. By noon on Monday, he had already towed three cars.
“Just a lot of vehicles not starting this morning,” said Deardorff, who work for Bulldog Recovery in Round Rock and responds to Travis County about once a week.
The Austin Towing Association, which contracts with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, wants to pay drivers like Deardorff $100 more per tow, raising the rate to $275. “My bottom line is being squeezed to sometimes I’m not even covering my costs,” said Patricia Diffee, owner of Bulldog Recovery
The idea is to give tow companies extra incentive to respond faster and get traffic moving. Currently, a towing company can refuse a call from the sheriff’s office. Dispatchers then have to try the next company on the rotation list, which takes more time.
But a shorter wait isn’t worth the money for some drivers. “When you have an accident alongside the road, any kind of car problems and you have to call a tow truck, you’ve already got an expense right there. So let alone add more for someone to take you off the road,” explains Bette Scully, a Travis County driver.
The rate hike will cost the sheriff’s office more as well. The agency already pays about $7,000 a year for towing costs that can’t be billed to the vehicle’s owner or an insurance company. The sheriff’s office expects those costs to increase about 60 percent, an extra $4,200 a year.
The rate hike would take Travis County from being the lowest paying to the highest paying in the tri-county area. Hays County already charges $250 per tow and Williamson County charges $195.
The Austin Police Department no longer use a rotation list. They use an app called “Auto Return” to clear crashes faster. It allows officers to contact the closest available tow truck driver. APD says it has drastically reduced the average wait time from about 20 to 30 minutes to less than 8 minutes.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office tells KXAN they don’t use the same app due to the cost and that it doesn’t give towing companies an equal playing field to respond to calls. A spokesperson says the county is broken into about five regions and they have separate rotation lists for each region, that way a tow truck driver isn’t too far away from a call.
If approved by the Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, the hike is expected to take effect in January.