Coleman Scholz had just completed a long and stressful week of school. The last thing he wanted to find was a boot on his car as he was preparing to leave for a date. With money already tight, Scholz handed over the last $75 in his bank account to a local towing company to get the boot removed from his car.
“It seems like towing companies are just out to get students,” said Scholz, an accounting student from Herndon, Va. “I mean, why would you create a towing company in Provo if there wasn’t money to be made at the expense of students?”
Over the years, parking enforcement companies in Provo have driven students to create hilarious YouTube videos, angry blog posts and even controversial Facebook pages. But towing company representatives say they are often misunderstood.
Michael Lamont, president of University Parking Enforcement — arguably the most prominent towing and booting company in Provo — said his company isn’t out to target students, but rather to fulfill their responsibility to serve private property owners.
“UPE has been an integral part of establishing the Provo City Ordinance as you see it today,” Lamont said. “I believe the [local parking enforcement laws] to be, for the most part, a protection for private property owners, vehicle owners and legitimate parking enforcement companies.”
The Utah Administrative Code, which sets policy for private towing companies, defines the towing service UPE offers as a “non-consent, non-police-generated tow,” meaning a tow is performed without the prior consent of the owner of the vehicle or the person authorized by the owner to operate the vehicle from private property.
The code also states tow truck services can only operate on a particular property at the request of the property landowner or agent for the landowner.
Many complaints against towing companies stem from sizable towing fines. Lamont said UPE doesn’t inflate its prices and must adhere to the Utah Department of Transportation’s maximum towing rate policies.
“Pricing for a non-consent tow is set by UDOT,” Lamont said. “Currently the fee is $145. Booting is also set by UDOT and is regulated at one half the current tow fee, or $72.50. UPE charges $50 for a boot.”
When asked about how towing prices in Provo compare to national parking enforcement fees, Lamont said a 2009 audit showed Utah fell well below the national average tow fee of $250.
“I always try and show people that have been towed the other side of the coin,” Lamont said. “How would you feel if someone parked in your driveway? How frustrating would it be to come home from work and not have a place to park where you pay rent? The majority of the vehicles that we tow are vehicles parked in reserved stalls, red zones and handicap stalls.”
Lamont said unethical behavior by other towing companies drove him to create University Parking Enforcement.
“I established this company because of the lack of customer service and ethics in the parking enforcement industry,” Lamont said. “I understand that being towed or booted is never going to be a fun experience, but at least with UPE you will be treated with respect and integrity.”
While Lamont said he hopes UPE will treat people with respect and dignity, that doesn’t always mean UPE drivers will receive a warm welcome.
Theron Anderson, a BYU graduate, started working for UPE to put himself through school. Anderson said he had his share of run-ins with disgruntled towing victims.
“We had people get out of the car with their buddies and try and intimidate us by swearing up a storm,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen everything from people pulling out the Church to threatening me with my life.”
Anderson said these experiences only made him pity the people he had to tow.
“You feel bad for these people because they don’t know that they are violating rules,” Anderson said. “There were times when I let people off because I felt that they had an extenuating circumstance, but in the end our customers are not the people who are booted, they are the property owners.”
Like other parking enforcement companies, Anderson said UPE paid their drivers on a commission basis, with UPE collecting a portion of the towing and booting fees.
“If I had to guess, based on what we were pulling in, I would say [UPE] make[s] a couple hundred thousand a month,” Anderson said.
While UPE’s website contains numerous endorsements from satisfied customers, the company still suffers from an abysmal Better Business Bureau rating of an “F.”
Chris Nelson, a junior from Salem, Ore., studying music education, said he’s never been towed but feels towing companies are a necessary evil.
“If people park illegally and they get towed then I have no pity for them. Just make sure you don’t park illegally and you won’t have a problem,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of like putting your head in a lion’s mouth and then getting mad when the lion bites you. I mean, you knew it was a lion before you put your head in there, why are you mad at the lion?”