The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has announced changes they will be enacting for the towing and storage industry going into the new year. Set to come into effect in January of 2022, the goal is to clear vehicles and crash areas sooner and more efficiently. It also outlines restrictions on which tow operators have access to these scenes. Let’s take a closer look at Ontario’s OPP Tow Program, and how calling for roadside assistance is going to change moving forward.
What is the OPP Tow Program?
The effort, dubbed “The OPP Pilot Tow Program”, is the result of engagement with the province that started the initiative under the MOMs Act earlier this year. By only having approved companies looking after certain highway zones, the government says it will prevent some towing companies from swooping in on drivers who need help and overcharging them for towing and storage fees.
The OPP Tow Program will require tow operators to apply annually to be able to respond to tow calls placed by officers. The report previously mentioned states “These are tows for which police have legislated authority (e.g. vehicle impoundment for impaired driving, stunt driving, or evidence). The program also applies to tows requested by OPP officers on behalf of members of the public who need a tow.”
Goals of the OPP Tow Program
The OPP Tow Program is a four-year pilot project that the government hopes will address some of the problems that have been facing the towing industry, including arson, shootings, violence and customers being unfairly dealt with. The goals of the tow pilot program are to ensure tow operators have proper training and equipment, as well as reducing congestion and delays to clear highways more quickly. As well, the program should allow for fairer and more transparent operations, which is necessary after four OPP officers were charged earlier this year with numerous charges, including breach-of-trust after a two-year investigation.
Levelling the playing field
Under the new rules, each tow truck company must apply to the OPP to be considered, and must be approved by a local commander. Tow and Storage Service Operators (TSSO) “will need to provide information relating to ownership, registration, license, vehicle, equipment, insurance and other details in the application. A signed release that authorizes the OPP to conduct a criminal history background check will also be required.”
In an interview conducted by CTV news, Mark Graves, the president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO), said that the towing industry is in need of an overhaul. The new towing rules are now in place in the Greater Toronto Area to try and clear up accidents faster and protect consumers from being overcharged if they need a tow truck. The PTAO president also stated he would like to see provincial licensing of tow truck operators to better protect the public, as well as ensure that tow truck operators have the proper training and equipment.
The new rules will also ensure tow rates for drivers as the authorized towing companies must provide a fee schedule, an itemized invoice showing all costs and be willing to accept debit and credit cards. Each tow request must be documented and each officer can only use a company once per shift.
Breakdown of the OPP Tow Program
Here are the key details of the program according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO):
What highways are covered under the program?
- Highway 400: Zone 3 between Highway 9 in King and Highway 401 in Toronto
- Highway 401: Zone 1 in Toronto between Highway 400 and Morningside Avenue, Zone 2 between Regional Road 25 in Milton and Highway 400 in Toronto
- Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW): Zone 4 between Brant Street in Burlington and Highway 427 in Toronto
- Highway 409: Zone 2 between Highways 427 and 401 in Toronto
- Highway 427: Zone 2 between Highways 401 and 427 in Toronto
How has hiring a tow truck changed?
Similar to previously established road rules regarding traffic emergencies, if you are in an accident or have a break down in one of the four zones and you require assistance, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario advises you to call 911 in emergency scenarios.
However, if you’re safely pulled over on the side of the road you can call 511 and select “Tow Zone Pilot” to reach an authorized tow company. If there’s no immediate danger, either the police or the Ministry of Transportation will allow you to call your own roadside service, such as CAA.
What does this new Pilot Town Program mean for tow truck companies?
The crackdown pilot project has not been welcomed by everyone, as demonstrated by the tow truck protest that took place in June 2021. Travelling along Highway 401, tow truck drivers impeded traffic to show their displeasure with the pilot project.
Important: You can arrange for towing services through your preferred provider after your vehicle is removed from the highway. The MTO said officers and/or ministry officials “may” allow you to use roadside assistance programs, like CAA, if you’re in a safe location, but it’s not a guarantee.
CAA offers roadside assistance and towing services for it’s members and said it is still encouraging its clients to call CAA if you are safely pulled over on the side of the road, even if in one of the four restricted tow zones. “If you are a CAA member, call CAA and we can help you figure it out,” said Teresa Di Felice, assistant Vice President, Government and Community Relations with CAA. “If you are on the side of the highway and you call CAA, we should still be able to come and get you. Should we not be able to come and get you and you have to use an MTO (Ministry of Transportation of Ontario) provider, you are then eligible for a reimbursement,” said Di Felice.
OPP Tow Program must-do’s for authorized towing companies
MTO guidelines require authorized towing companies do the following when approaching you in an accident situation:
- Show you identification if you request it (trucks are also supposed to have MTO-related decals) and give you a fee schedule, as well as other information materials
- Get your permission to tow your vehicle to your preferred destination once it is off the highway zone area, unless police order it to be taken elsewhere
- Give you an itemized invoice of services provided, a breakdown of all the costs and the total before you are asked for payment (credit and debit card preferred)
- Allow you access to your vehicle if it’s being stored between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday to Friday or 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on weekends (except for holidays) at no charge so you can retrieve personal items, unless police order otherwise
- The tow operator is not to recommend services related to sales, repair/body shops or legal/medical services
What are the prices for towing?
The MTO set base rates for towing and storage. There is a one-hour minimum and if the service is after an hour, your charges are broken down into 30-minute increments. The rate covers the driver and operator charges, as well as vehicles that are broken down or impounded. It also includes preparation work, hooking up the vehicle to the truck and up to 10 kms of towing. Storage of vehicles is charged by the full calendar day. The Ministry of Transportation said the zones have been chosen based on factors such as traffic volume and collision data, and additional zones may be added in future as part of the pilot project.
For more details regarding how the new tow program may affect you or your auto insurance, contact isure today!