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San Francisco gives low-income people a break on city’s steep tow and boot fees

2018 did not get off to a good start for Pamela Lynott.
In January, Pamela, a disabled senior citizen, got her car towed for the first time in her 49-year driving history. The tow and citation added up to $412—about half of her monthly income from her social security benefits. She eventually paid to get her car back, but was unable to pay her rent. She worried she would be evicted. She went to Project Homeless Connect, a San Francisco organization that helped her pay her rent and citation.

Thanks to reforms passed unanimously on Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority Board, fewer people will be forced to make Pamela’s decision: Do I pay my rent or do I pay to get my car back after it’s been towed or booted? 
The reforms are described in today’s San Francisco Chronicle and will significantly lower tow and boot fees for people earning under 200% of the Federal Poverty Line (about $50,000 for a family of four), about 25% of San Francisco’s population. The reforms allow people to pay off the citations that led to the tow or boot over time through a payment plan or by doing community service. That’s important when about half of Americans cannot not come up with $400 in an emergency—they simply don’t have the money, according to the Federal Reserve.
If these reforms had been in place when Pamela was towed, she would have had to come up with about half as much as she did up front to get her car back. And she would have been able to pay off her citation over time, making it easier for her to do so.

Specifically, for eligible low -income people, the new reforms will:

  1. Eliminate the $263 administrative fee on towing.  Eligible low-income people will still pay the hard cost of the tow ($229).
  2. Lower the fees to have a “boot” removed from your car. This fee will be $100 for eligible low-income people and $505 for the general population
  3. Allow people to pay off the citations that led to the tow or boot over time through a payment plan or by doing community service.

These reforms are a big step forward for our City. We look forward to continuing to work with the SFMTA and community stakeholders on further reforms. As Pamela said, no one’s life should be derailed when they’re towed.
Yours in financial justice,
Anne and Christa

Copyright © 2018 Financial Justice Project, All rights reserved.

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