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SF cuts towing fees for low-income drivers

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The San Francisco Muncipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday voted to cut towing fees for low-income residents. (Examiner file photo)

Towing fees in San Francisco are set to drop after the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted Tuesday to slash them by almost half for low-income drivers.

The fee reduction comes on the heels of others for parking ticket and Muni citation payment plans, which data shows have encouraged more people to pay off their tickets.

“This is absolutely a step in the right direction,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who was among the elected officials to call out the SFMTA for its excessive towing fees two years ago. “We have to evaluate our fees and [their] disproportionate impact on low-income households who have to choose between rent and a tow-away fee, or food and a tow-away fee.”

Towing fees that could often top $600 have long been the bane of San Franciscans and became the center of heated public debate in 2016.

Anne Stuhldreher, director of the Financial Justice division of the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office, also praised SFMTA’s efforts to reduce fees and create payment plans on Tuesday.

“These reforms will make a big difference for people finding themselves in a desperate situation,” Stuhldreher told the SFMTA board, because “people living in poverty have a hard time coming up with a couple hundred dollars at once.”

Currently SFMTA discounts towing fees for those who are low income and experiencing their first tow. Under those conditions, drivers pay $86 compared to the full fee of $261. Now the SFMTA fee for those who are low income, regardless of whether or not it’s their first tow, has been eliminated, although drivers will still need to pay $229 to towing vendors. The SFMTA will also waive some fees for dollies and flatbed trucks when used in towing, which are $74.50 and $99.25, respectively.

Along with lowering towing fees, SFMTA passed a suite of proposals to lower fines and fees for low-income drivers, including reducing boot fees and reducing its delinquent tickets collections fee from $49 to $40.

These discounted low income boot removal and tow fees apply to drivers who receive benefits from designated low income social service programs like CalFresh, MediCal or Supplemental Social Security Income, or demonstrate an annual income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The new fees go into effect July 1.

SFMTA also dropped its enrollment fee to enter a citation payment plan. As of March 1 low-income ticket payers could enroll in the payment plan for $5, down from the previous $60, and others could enroll in a payment plan for $25. Lowering the fee for payment plans has caused the number of people paying their tickets to quadruple, according to data shared by the SFMTA.

From March 1 to May 1 this year, SFMTA reported 441 people signed up for payment plans, while last year during the same period only 96 people enrolled. Since more people were able to pay off their tickets, revenue to the SFMTA rose as well: last year in that two month period The City raked in $64,890 from people on the plan, while this year the agency took in $223,993 in the same two-month period from those ticket payers.

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