Allyn Alford was running late to a business meeting in Miami Beach Tuesday morning when he parked his car without carefully reading the sign. Minutes later, he got a ticket. Then came the tow truck.
It's an awful moment that thousands of people endure every year in Miami Beach, where Beach Towing and its competitor, Tremont, donate heavily to politicians so they can basically run a legal racket by holding drivers' cars hostage. Dozens of complaints filed against the companies allege they pay people to watch lots and call them whenever they see a car the company can tow.
But Alford says after his tow, he discovered a new, sketchy method that Beach Towing was using to jack up the price to release his car: a $40 extra fee for using a flatbed or dolly to tow his car — even though a surveillance video he later obtained clearly showed the driver didn't use a flatbed or dolly.
"I parked in the wrong spot — that's my fault. I take full responsibility for that," Alford says. "But to charge people $40 fees for something that didn't happen is predatory."
Neither Beach Towing nor Ralph Andrade, the company's attorney, responded to messages about Alford's allegations.
Alford says he noticed something was wrong when he arrived at Beach Towing's lot in Sunset Harbour to retrieve his vehicle and asked for his bill. The man behind the thick window, though, refused to hand it to him, Alford says.
"He slapped the bill against the glass so I could review it but said he wouldn't give me the bill until I gave him the money," Alford says.
Squinting through the thick glass, Alford spotted the separate $40 fee for using a dolly or flatbed. But because he had watched the tow truck take his car, he knew the driver hadn't used any separate device or flatbed to haul his ride away.
When Alford argued with the man behind the window about the fee, he told Alford to take it to court — which would cost more than the fee itself.
"It's so unfair. They're holding your car hostage, so you can't fight them. You just have to pay, but the fees aren't even real," Alford says.
But Alford didn't give up. He obtained security camera footage from the restaurant near the spot where he'd parked, which showed his car being towed from three angles. Neither a dolly nor a flatbed is visible in any of the shots, he says.
Alford believes he's not the only driver slapped with a bogus charge for that supposed extra service. "While at the tow yard, I watched as several vehicles came in with no dollies," says Alford, who believes a dolly to be a separate attachment to the truck that supports the car's wheels, "which made me wonder, Will the bills for those vehicles also have a fee for the use of a dolly or flatbed?"
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In online Google reviews for Beach Towing, some customers confirm they've noticed the same fee on their bills.
"My girlfriend got her car towed after we attended a party on June 23, 2018. I called the business to see how much it would cost to retrieve the car (I parked in the taxi zone). They told me $289," an online reviewer named Austine Obiesie wrote. "I was charged a $140 hook up fee, $12 for the miles, $30 for labor, $40 dollies/flatbed fee, $35 administrative fee, $2 tax, and $30 after hour fee. This is the definition of price gouging."
Alford sent a written complaint about the company's dolly and flatbed fee to the Miami Beach Commission. Commissioner Ricky Arriola responded to Alford and passed the message along to the city's parking director, Saul Frances.
"Rest assured, we will investigate this matter, and I will be in touch shortly," Francis promised.