Guest post: SAFEclear ruling buried by other news

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Safe Clear Not So Clear? (Guest Post by Michael W. Jones)

Thursday Afternoon, KHOU had a short story buried amongst the Katrina hurricane coverage about another topic of local importance, SafeCLEAR.

Under the ruling, the city will no longer be able to give wrecker companies exclusive rights to sections of Houston highways.

SAFEclear has been a thorn in Houstonians’ sides for eight full months. It was revamped twice to try and avoid being killed in Austin. Now when Mayor White thinks that we’ve all just accepted the fact that his program is here to stay, a judge exposes the truth behind it.

But, as Paul Harvey would say, there’s the “rest of the story.” While SAFEclear has 11 registered companies, those companies are actually sub-contracting to yet other towing companies. Who for instance has heard of “KTL Enterprises” or “Cannino West, Inc.”? As I commented a month ago,

Wrecker drivers are more interested in running non-freeway calls, since there was some “under the table” profit sharing amongst several drivers, along with more money to be had. Some of this is due to the restructuring that happened to make free tows, or the flat fee for up to 5 miles. I heard one driver comment that he could easily make $450 on two cross-town tows if he wasn’t running Safe Clear.

Part of this comes from the fact that there are not enough true revenue-generating tows for them to spend on the freeways (part of SAFEclear requires that companies patrol their zone and clear vehicles). Also, the flat rate has not increased but fuel prices have increased dramatically over the last nine months. For a truck (that I would guess gets 12 MPG at best) it is expensive to have it running up and down the freeway not making money.

With the ruling, as soon as these “shell” companies can get out of their contracts (which I suspect with the ruling will not be soon, since it’s likely there’s to be an appeal), they will do so. As I told a friend of mine at the beginning of the year, I had doubted that SAFEclear would last three to six months. With the changes this past spring to avoid death in the legislature, it gave the ordinance a new lease on life, but not for much longer than I anticipated.

With SAFEclear now close to being taken off life support, what’s the next revenue stream of Mayor White’s to go away (Personal bets on Red-Light Cameras)?

Michael W. Jones is a reader and commenter at blogHOUSTON.

UPDATE: Rorschach has more on the SAFEclear ruling and today’s related Chronicle story by Matt Stiles and Kristen Mack.

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