SafeClear is the city-run program that allows contracted tow trucks to get stranded or broken down vehicles off
the freeway at no cost to the driver.
It's intended to keep traffic flowing and keep drivers safe. The program has been successful and generally popular,
but there are concerns that it gives unfair advantage to large tow companies, thereby hurting smaller operations.
Councilmember Jarvis Johnson tagged the ordinance that would renew SafeClear, delaying it for another week.
"I truly believe in SafeClear. I think SafeClear is a good program. While some of the operators that are left out in the cold are very upset that they cannot participate in the contract, I do believe that it is a good contract. But I still want to be able to look at concerns that operators who have the contract have brought to our attention and then operators who don't have the contract have brought to our attention."
Jeanette Rash is on the SafeClear Management Team. Her company is one of the contractors for the program. She says councilmembers' concerns about maintaining a fair market are valid.
"We need to do a better job of mentoring small businesses and making sure that they are certified because we do have small businesses that work with us — they're not too paper-oriented because they really don't like paper that's usually why we're in the towing business — and so we're going to have to do a better job of making sure that we mentor those smaller companies along. Especially as we look at expanding SafeClear to other major thoroughfares within the city and within the region."
One of the challenges is the overhead required for companies to participate. Rash says smaller operations get frozen out because financially they can't compete.
"For instance, it has been three months since we received payment because the money hasn't been allocated. So it takes a bigger company to continue to pay your subcontractors and pay your tow operators and keep your company going. You have your big companies who can handle it and then you have your smaller companies you're mentoring. As they grow they will be able to participate, maybe with just one segment instead of four segments, so that's our goal right now."
Council will hold a meeting with the city's tow truck operators next week to discuss the details of how the program could be tweaked. The ordinance may come up for a vote again next Wednesday. If it's approved, the SafeClear program will be renewed for another five years.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.