A Tow Truck’s Tale

(Based on a true story)

No one likes to start their day on a stressful note now do they? What better way to kick start a busy working day than with a 5:50am hot power yoga class in buzzing inner-city Brisbane. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I thought anyway. As my restful savasana came to an end and I namaste’d to start my day… I got up, rolled my mat, said a quick hello and thankyou to the instructor before I remembered that my early morning car spot became a ‘no-standing’ at 7:00am. I look down at my watch, see it’s 6:53am and think “it takes me two minutes max. to get back to my car… I’m sweet.” So in the desired post-yoga relaxation state I’m in, I leisurely stroll out to the street, turn the corner, and there it is… the shark! An enormous tow track is pulled up next to mine (and three other yogi’s cars) blocking us from moving and ready to tow. I’m immediately thrown out of my post-yoga feels as I sprint for my life to save my car from the jaws of the giant predator. I get in, turn the key as quick as I can, squeeze my little Mazda2 past the monstrous truck and finally take a breath when I know I’ve escaped. Joy! Off to work I go…

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Whether or not this scenario is something you are personally familiar with, it seems a few too many Queenslanders have fallen victim to these unscrupulous operators. An investigation by the Sunday Mail has uncovered the dirty underbelly of Brisbane’s predatory land sharks. As it turns out, Fortitude Valley, Albion and Newstead have been some of the hardest hit suburbs for this behaviour… I’m not alone! This “totally outrageous behaviour” by what Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey calls the “shark operators” is set to be scrutinized in an inquiry into Queensland’s tow truck industry.

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A ‘still-to-be-announced’ retired Judge is set to take this inquiry to the State Cabinet following some of the 277 phone calls to the Department of Transport and Main Roads hotline and 177 official complaints against tow truck operators with issues including exorbitant fees, intimidation and signage. Not to mention damaged vehicles! Amongst these victims was a mother who pulled up momentarily in a commercial zone next to her apartment building, ducking upstairs briefly and returning to find her car (baby inside) being towed by a ‘shark operator’. Talk about live bait!

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These ‘shark operators’ are not to be confused with tow operators (such as RACQ) who operate within the law. Instead the ‘sharks’ include those “spotters”, who are employed by private tow truck companies to identify cars parked on private property. These companies are not hired or called upon by the owners of the private property, they are really just predators. As some of you may know, they tow cars within MINUTES of a vehicle being parked illegally.

You would not believe it but in the last two weeks alone I have spoken to at least five different victims that coincidentally all had a personal experience or knew someone close to them who had been innocently stopping in for a delicious treat at ‘Ben’s Burgers’ in Fortitude Valley only to have their car towed and receive a $600.00 fine as a side. Now that’s an expensive burger!! I guess, on the bright side, these victims were lucky to miss out on the $1,000.00 “after hours” fee charged by some companies …Yeah… lucky.

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It will be interesting to see the outcome of such an inquiry, in an area that has not been dealt with in the past 20 years. It will consider the loopholes of the current Truck Act 1973 (Qld), aiming to ban “spotters”, cap towing fees to $250.00, implement consistent warning signs, restrict the distance a car can be towed by a tow truck and deal with the release of personal information and intimidation.

It has been classified by RACQ’s executive general manager Paul Turner as a “really difficult area” to modernise due to the battle between motorists and those private land owners who have a right to protect their land.

“Motorists need protection from the entrapment, excessive criminality and extortion from these rogue operators.”

Shark Operators… you have been warned… “We’re onto you and we’re coming to get you.”

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