Towing 2.0: The Future of the Industry

Prior to moving to Chicago, I had never experienced the concept of being towed. I’m not talking about your car breaking down; I’m referring to the idea of you walking outside and seeing your car missing, and quickly realizing you were about 5 minutes too late to move your car.

In the suburbs, there is really no reason to ever get towed, as there is ample parking everywhere. However, in Chicago I wasn’t quite so lucky.

Towing 1.0

To quickly summarize the current state of towing for those who are lucky enough to not have experienced it:

  • Tow trucks presumably are acutely aware of when different parts of the streets are no longer legal to park on (some streets have windows during rush hour where parking isn’t allowed) and start circling like vultures.
  • As soon as they legally can, they grab your car and take it to the lot where you have to pick it up. It may not make sense, but this is usually nowhere close to where you actually got towed. I’ve driven 30+ minutes to pick up a car.
  • You have to find a way to get to that lot. If you have to take a taxi, this is just adding to the bill that you are about to pay, not to mention that you are wasting an evening.
  • The bill has been between $125-$200.

There are so many inefficiencies in what I have posted above that it is ridiculous.

  • Why is a tow truck, which presumably has horrible gas mileage, driving my car 30 miles away?
  • Why do I have to waste an evening finding a way to retrieve my car?
  • What is the point of having a lot when you have to pick up your car immediately anyway? The turnover on that lot has to be ridiculously high for the amount of space they have.

Towing 2.0

I have a proposed solution for the future of towing that should make everyone happy.

  • The tow trucks can continue to hover over cars that are about to be parked illegally. However, instead of immediately towing them, they throw a boot on the wheel (or maybe just get the car in towing position without actually driving off).
  • Each car has to have a QR code of some sort in the window that allows the tow truck to call the owner. I’m not yet sure how to ensure that random people can’t call the owner of the car, but that can be worked out later. Maybe we can equip the cars with Bluetooth Low Energy transmitters and create some application on the tow truck side that automatically places a recorded call.
  • If the car owner picks up, the tow truck operator tells him he has 5 minutes to get out to his car, electronically transfer the full fine to the tow truck company via credit card (Square) or cash, and move the vehicle.
  • If the car owner does not pick up or is too slow, the tow truck operator tows the vehicle.

This solves a couple of the worst parts of the towing process for both sides.

  • The person getting towed feels like an idiot, but doesn’t have to waste their evening finding a way to get their car back.
  • The tow truck operator gets the full amount of money for doing significantly less work.
  • The tow truck operator can theoretically pounce on multiple cars at once and hope that everyone comes out to pay him on the spot (although he obviously could only tow one the owners were inattentive).
  • The tow truck operator can move on to the next location in minutes instead of having to drive the towed car to the lot (and back).
  • Less mileage and gas consumption by the tow truck.
  • The inventory at the lot of towed cars is smaller, resulting in (presumably) less land needed.

At the end of the day, this saves a bunch of people time while still allowing the current process to exist as the fallback for inattentive car owners. The only downside I can see is that the spot that is being illegally parked in remains filled for another 5 minutes, but you could try to proactively solve this by making the parked vehicles smart enough to send reminders to their owners when the legal parking time is coming to a close based on some sort of location aware technology. Perhaps another excuse for Bluetooth Low Energy…