Cash-Only Tremont Towing Stops $20 ATM Fee After Commissioner Complains

If you need a dose of rage to get your blood pumping this Monday morning, take a few minutes to read the Yelp reviews of Tremont Towing. Amid the usual complaints of illegal tows and surly drivers, you'll notice another common complaint: Drivers must pay nearly $300 to get their cars back, and Tremont doesn't take credit cards. There's an ATM onsite — but it charges more than $20 in extra fees to withdraw that much cash.

Don't expect the Beach to crack down on how cars are towed, but that final bit of outrage will at least change. After a commissioner complained, Tremont now says it will replace the price-gouging ATM. 

"It was the right thing to do," says Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who asked Tremont to stop the fee. "A $20 ATM fee is too much."

The change might come just in time to help the tens of thousands of visitors pouring into South Beach this weekend for Memorial Day parties. Last year, South Beach's two tow companies — Tremont and Beach Towing — hooked up and towed 623 vehicles, more than twice the number towed the previous year. 

Those unlucky visitors will still be on the hook for the hundreds of bucks to get a car out of Tremont and Beach Towing's armored lots, of course. 

But Tremont says its high-fee ATM is on the way out. The change came about after local filmmaker Billy Corben began raising hell about the issue. 

Corben had been incensed at Arriola over a quote the commissioner gave the Miami Herald defending Tremont's competitor, saying, "Beach Towing is a responsible company that gives back to the community.”

Corben jumped on Twitter and tweeted that Arriola had "lost his mind."

"I'm sick and tired of politicians defending the indefensible," Corben told New Times.

While Corben was discussing the towing problem with a friend, he learned that Tremont had an ATM on premises that charged customers huge fees for cash withdrawals. Taking out enough cash to pay for a tow resulted in a $20 fee. 

Corben blew a gasket. In a blizzard of text messages sent to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioners Michael Grieco and Arriola, Corben issued what he terms a "call to action."

Corben asked all three to do something about the fee, and then he unleashed this broadside:

"[The towing companies have] been operating a government-sanctioned criminal enterprise for decades, stealing and holding for ransom people's first or second most valuable piece of property without oversight or accountability, countless cases breaking into cars and stealing additional property. Exploiting the police at the expense of taxpayers as a private security force and enlisting bought and paid for a politicians as their enablers and apologists."

Mayor Levine called Corben last Monday night and told him he would "look into it."

Corben says he exchanged a few text messages with Grieco but then heard nothing more.

Last Wednesday, Arriola got in touch with Ralph Andrade, an attorney who represents both Beach and Tremont. Arriola says it took less than 30 minutes for him to respond.

Reached at his office this past Friday, Andrade says both companies use ATMs provided by an independent contractor. He says neither company derives any income from the machines.

Andrade says that in the case of Beach's ATM, the maximum fee charged was $4. He says that neither he nor Tremont's managers were aware of the high fee charged by the ATM on Tremont's premises until Arriola informed him, and that the company will ask the contractor to change the machine's fees.

Andrade insists that both Beach and Tremont strive to be as "customer-friendly as possible."

Commissioner Arriola concedes that the two towing companies are a thorn in the side of many on the Beach, "but without their services, we'd have gridlock."

"If a constituent calls me with a concern, I look into," Arriola says. "I got a call from Billy and I looked into it, and Ralph got back to me. Simple as that."

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