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Towing turf war fuels highway chaos

Payless says company shut out of Hwy 1 work

A North Vancouver tow truck driver says the RCMP’s Port Mann Freeway Patrol is making traffic on Highway 1 and the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing worse than it needs to be by failing to quickly clear stalls and accidents.

The Burnaby-based freeway patrol division has jurisdiction over Highway 1 up to Capilano Road, as opposed to local police agencies. The freeway patrol has discretion to call any towing company they want to clear the highway.

But Payless Towing operator Michael Uyeyama said his company is frequently turned away – even though his trucks can be on the scene faster than other companies.

One such incident happened in mid-January when two dump trucks collided just north of the bridgehead, creating traffic backups deep into West Vancouver.

“We’ve been on the Second Narrows bridge, on scene with two trucks . . . and been told to leave because Mitchell’s Towing is en route – only to find out later they haven’t show up for an hour, hour-and-a-half,” he said.

Mitchell Martin, owner of Mitchell’s Towing, said that claim is “ludicrous.”

“That’s not even remotely close to being any bit true whatsoever,” he said. “The most important (thing) when you work for the RCMP or West Van PD as we do, is (estimated time of arrival). I bet you nine times out of 10, if Port Mann RCMP were to release some information…. they’d say they’re never waiting on a tow truck. Our ETAs are probably 10 to 15 minutes for major motor vehicle accidents.”

Lower Mainland District RCMP, which oversees the Port Mann Freeway Patrol, acknowledged that Payless isn’t called to stalls or accidents anymore but did not address why or what impact it may be having on traffic.

“We are aware of Payless Auto Towing’s concerns. We have utilized the services of Payless Auto Towing in the past and they are well aware of why we terminated that relationship two years ago,” said Sgt. Annie Linteau, spokeswoman for Lower Mainland District RCMP in an email. “Over the course of the last few years we have had numerous discussions with them in an effort to come to a successful resolution. We invite them to contact us to discuss any further concerns they may have.”

The RCMP did not respond to any follow-up questions. Payless owner Gordon Carmichael said he believes the issue is related to the past conduct of one of their drivers.

“One of our drivers went down the Cut on the highway and apparently pulled a car out of the ditch and didn’t report it to the police department, which is a no-no. You’ve got to report it,” he said.

But, the Port Mann RCMP never gave Payless the opportunity to investigate the incident on its own, nor did they give the company a chance to make amends, Carmichael said.

While Port Mann RCMP has seemingly blacklisted Payless, North Vancouver RCMP continue to have a contract with them, Uyeyema pointed out.

But regardless of the reason, restricting which towing companies get called to accidents means collective punishment for anyone who commutes on the North Shore and gets caught in traffic snarls, Carmichael said.

“What people don’t see is that when you wait that long, all the arteries plug up. You can’t even get an ambulance in through some of the roads. People miss planes. People miss their jobs. It affects everybody,” he said.

Mitchell said his company’s response times speak for themselves. The RCMP calls his company because they’re happy with the service, he said.

“Realistically, if the RCMP had to wait, we wouldn’t be towing for them either because ETAs are super important. It’s not like they’re waiting around for us or it’s affecting how long it takes an accident to be cleared,” he said. “Occasionally things have to be turned upside down. You need competition. It makes you button up your shirt. That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s something Staff Sgt. Dale Somerville, Port Mann Freeway Patrol spokesman confirmed.

“It all boils to the best service for the public at the time,” he said.

Though Payless’s grievance isn’t specifically on the radar of the District of North Vancouver, the issue of clearing bridge traffic is, according to Dave Stuart, chief administrative officer for the District of North Vancouver.

“I’ve recently had discussions with the assistant deputy minister (of transportation) and he indicates this whole issue of jurisdictions on bridges is a chronic problem throughout the province and they are in fact looking at that,” he said. “I think there’s recognition that what we have now is minor fender benders creating what you could call havoc.”