STATEN ISLAND, NY – Despite allegations that a Queens-based towing company overcharged the Staten Islanders for years and the city’s rejection of that company’s license renewal application, it continues to have the right exclusive to operate on the borough’s highways in a system overseen by the NYPD.
The overcharging allegations were detailed in court documents related to a bomb lawsuit against Runway Towing Corporation earlier this year. Meanwhile, summons documents provided to Advance / SILive.com show that the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) denied the 2020 tow truck company’s license renewal application from Runway.
DCWP’s denial alleges that “Runway violated numerous laws and rules governing tow truck companies based on documents produced by Runway in response to a subpoena issued by DCWP …”
The NYPD, however, confirms that Runway is still towing under New York City’s arterial freeway program, which selects a single company to service the Korean War Veterans Parkway and the Staten Island Expressway.
“We will decline any further comments due to an ongoing litigation,” the NYPD spokesperson said.
Examples of infractions given by the DCWP in its denial of candidacy include four vehicles that were towed from the Staten Island Freeway last year where drivers were overcharged.
The documents include hundreds of other examples from across town where DCWP alleges Runway customers overcharged thousands of dollars in total.
The company denies the charges.
Errol Margolin of Margolin & Pierce, LLP, the lawyer representing Runway, told Advance / SILive.com that Runway “does not and does not overcharge clients.”
“All charges are expressly authorized by contract with the NYPD or by permission of the DCWP,” said Margolin.
Margolin said Runway maintains that DCWP’s determination to deny its license is “irrational” and that the decision will be overturned this week.
“Without an evidentiary hearing, the DCWP denied Runway’s renewal application. They acted as a prosecutor, judge and jury. It fundamentally flies in the face of our justice system. It is akin to prosecution misconduct. Their resolve is fundamentally flawed, ”he continued.
Margolin also stated that the track does not function without the license necessary for towing under the arterial program; a spokesperson for DCWP said the agency could not comment due to an ongoing dispute with Runway when asked if the tow truck company had a valid towing license.
Several sources told Advance / SILive.com that the continued operation of Runway is hurting other local businesses that could be awarded the contract Runway holds with the NYPD.
“[The fact that] They’ve been swindling Staten Island for years, bad enough, but the fact that they still operate on Staten Island freeways is criminal, ”said South Shore City Councilor Joseph Borelli. “These people should never be able to tow a car again. “
THE ARTERIAL PROGRAM
While the DCA licenses and regulates tow truck companies, the NYPD manages and regulates the city’s towing program for freeways, a DCWP spokesperson told Advance / SILive.com in January.
But even after receiving a license from DCWP, not all towing companies are allowed to tow vehicles on New York City’s 17 freeways, all of which are part of the “arterial program,” according to NYPD regulations.
A private towing company must receive a license from the DCWP and then apply to be part of the program, overseen by the NYPD.
“In the past, the NYPD issued licenses to approved towing providers selected through a competitive application process,” reads a recent copy of an NYPD application for towing services.
Of the 17 highways, Runway operated seven.
OVERLOAD NOTICE OF REFUSAL DETAILS
Drivers who drive passenger vehicles and require towing on Staten Island freeways are supposed to be charged $ 125 for the first 10 miles and $ 4 for any additional miles after, according to towing and NYPD regulations.
If a vehicle weighs between 10,000 pounds and 18,000 pounds, the price would drop to $ 175 and $ 10 for each additional mile, according to NYPD regulations.
For vehicles between 18,000 pounds and 26,000 pounds, the towing price would drop to $ 250, while for vehicles over 26,000 pounds, it would be $ 300, the regulation says.
The regulations state that no towing company can charge a fee for towing, warehousing, or any other costs indirectly related to towing and storing a vehicle.
Still, documents given to Advance / SILive.com show that dozens of drivers were charged by Runway more than what is allowed for towed distance, credit card charges, storage charges, and other overage charges.
On January 12, 2020, Runway towed a 2017 Nissan Altima from the Staten Island Freeway and charged the consumer $ 283.08, including a withdrawal fee of $ 25, which was illegal and against regulations, according to documents.
Over the next two weeks, Runway towed a 2017 Ford Escape and a 2006 Honda Accord and charged drivers for cleaning fees, withdrawal fees, credit card surcharges, and per-mileage charges. that was illegal and in violation of regulations, the documents show.
In DCWP’s denial notice to Runway, he states that in one month, Runway overcharged customers every day of the month and broke at least nine of the applicable laws in the city’s administrative code.
RUNWAY DID NOT PROVIDE ALL DOCUMENTS REQUESTED BY SUBPOENA
DCWP says it gave Runway more than one opportunity to provide documents after being subpoenaed, but Runway did not provide all of the requested documents within the time limit.
“While Runway attributes its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State did not declare a state of emergency until or around March 7, 2020. Thus, Runway had time to respond correctly to the assignment of the DCWP “, indicate the documents.
DCWP said it gave Runway several extensions to produce the necessary documents. Runway’s argument that it was understaffed due to the pandemic indicates the company is not complying with DCWP’s electronic record keeping rules, the DCWP said.
CLASS ACTION FILED LAST YEAR ALLEGING YEARS OF OVERLOADING
A class action lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court last year includes allegations by at least 31 city residents alleging that Runway “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to overcharge consumers, businessmen and women. insurance companies, by charging rates between 50% and more than 100% above the authorized rates.
Several of the allegations stem from incidents on the Staten Island Freeway, over which Runway has a monopoly on towing vehicles under the NYPD-overseen New York City arterial program.
The complaints allege that customers were overcharged for distance and storage, and that customers were offered lower rates if they paid in cash.
In one case, Runway towed a vehicle from the West Shore Expressway to South Ozone, Queens – where the towing company is based – at a cost of $ 1,000 to a trucking company, according to the complaint.
“If you’re from Staten Island, why do you have to go to Queens to pick up your car?” Asked Gary Rosen, the lawyer who filed the class action.
Runway, however, did not limit itself to overcharging consumers, but also provided them with invoices that lacked a detailed price breakdown and customer bill of rights as required by law, according to the complaint.
“NYPD and Department of Consumer Affairs knowingly allowed Runway to overcharge consumers and business owners and did not provide enforcement.” New York Administrative Code requires to stop overcharging consumers and businesses. companies by Runway, according to the complaint.
In 2018, Runway was at the center of yet another controversy when Breen Bros. Towing, who has served the Staten Island community for over 40 years, has filed a lawsuit against the NYPD for improper contract termination.
The NYPD assigned the highways on which the Staten Island Company operated, the Staten Island Expressway and the West Shore Expressway, to Runway.
“Our contract was terminated without cause for what the city calls convenience,” manager Joseph Breen said previously in an interview with The Advance. “We have been here for a long time and being able to serve the residents of Staten Island means a lot to us. “
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