The City Council approved a new batch of towing contracts Friday, adding language aimed at keeping private towers in line during chaotic snow emergencies.

The new contracts come nearly six months after the Star Tribune reported that towing was not being enforced equally throughout the city, illustrated by zero towing cars in Southwest Minneapolis during one particular snow emergency (right). At the time, the city and one of its towing companies, Rapid Recovery, accused each other of being at fault.

The city never fully investigated what caused the problems between the contractor and city field supervisors, public works officials said. Rapid Recovery was awarded the same territory in the new round of contracts.

“I’m not sure that we’ll ever come to the exact bottom line of the root problem,” said Jon Wertjes, the city's director of traffic and parking services. “But I think globally we could all agree that there was maybe miseducation, miscommunication among both parties, that would suggest we can both do it better.”

The contracts (which can be renewed until 2020) now contain more explicit language specifying that contractors must follow the direction of city staff. It also specifies the city can require the contractors to use its towing software, allowing staff to more easily see whether the companies have deployed enough trucks.

“Three quarters of the battle is implementing this and enforcing the language,” said Mike Kennedy, the city’s transportation maintenance director. “There didn’t need to be a ton of contract language change, as much as our understanding the authority we have and exercising it.”

The city expects to pay the five bidding towing companies a combined $2 million annually. The two prime contracts for year-round towing went to Wrecker Services, Inc. and Rapid Recovery. The other contractors, who only work during snow emergencies and street sweeping, are Corky’s Towing, Inc., Twin Cities Transport and Recovery and Williams Towing Inc.  

The contracts were last opened in 2008. Since then, Rapid Recovery has decreased their price slightly per tow (to $58.94), while Wrecker Services has raised it nearly $5 (to $44.65).

The City Council’s Transportation and Public Works committee chair, Kevin Reich, said in February that he would like to see stiffer penalties for contractor noncompliance in the new contracts. But most of the key penalties remained the same in the new contract.

“That was an initial response at the time,” Reich said of his earlier comments. “What tools can we use to get the outcomes we want. Staff has endeavored to explore, develop and implement some other tools that are contractually enforceable.”

Reich said the mandatory use of the towing software will be an important accountability tool. “We will be able to make things a little more efficient,” Reich said. “We will be able to track them and redirect them where there are gaps that show up from the data that we receive.”

Reich said the new contract allows the city to call in other companies in the event that a contractor is understaffed. But a comparison of the two contracts shows the city already had that ability, and the language has not changed.

Here are the expected payments annually, by contractor. A map of the zones and districts are located on page 26 of the contract language, attached below.

Wrecker Services, Inc.                                   District A/Zone 3                   $666,490.55

Rapid Recovery, Inc.                                      District B/Zone 5                   $632,838.78

Corky’s Towing, Inc.                                       Zone 1 & Zone 4                    $415,120.00

Twin Cities Transport and Recovery                  Zone 2                                  $141,000.00

Williams Towing, Inc.                                      Zone 6                                  $119,691.00

Towing Bid 2014