Big Win for Local Towing Companies: AutoReturn Ousted by PSP; Pilot Program Discontinued

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – The Pennsylvania State Police’s (PSP) Plan to have a California-based company, AutoReturn, remotely make dispatches for emergencies on state roads in Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Lawrence, and Mercer Counties is history as of late Wednesday night.

The controversial no-bid Third-Party Administrator (TPA) Towing Pilot Program was to be discontinued in the counties as of 11:59 p.m. on November 12, according to a letter from PSP Lieutenant Colonel George L. Bivens to Pennsylvania Towing Association President Ronald M. Bressler.

“The pilot program failed due to numerous reasons including all that we brought forward and more,” said Curt Hovis of Hovis Auto & Truck Supply, a vocal area opponent. 

“In the end, AutoReturn fell far short of delivering the promised results.  The PSP should be commended for doing a thorough performance review and terminating the program before winter.  Special thanks go out to our firefighters, legislature, and members of the PSP for demanding a truthful accounting of the program’s performance.  We hope we can now come together as a group and address the issues that are a concern in the towing industry without sacrificing health and safety.”

Tow responders, including those that service major truck accidents on I-80, signed the petitions because of safety concerns for the local motorists and first responders.  Responders believed that a local live dispatch from 911, which has situational awareness and complete control of local emergency services, is faster and better than an automated dispatch from California.   Concerns about the safety, cost, efficiency, and responsiveness of AutoReturn also caused public concern for many other Pennsylvanians.

State Senator Scott E. Hutchinson also supported the PSP’s decision to end the pilot program. The senator and some of his colleagues wrote letters against the program to Frank Noonan, State Police Commissioner.

“This is a good and appropriate decision by the State Police,” said Hutchinson. “There were serious public safety issues and credibility concerns regarding the vendor. There was almost universal opposition to this dispatching service. Local tow operators opposed it and raised a number of concerns about the company’s business practices. This was an experiment that simply did not work.”

“In the end, the concerns many of us — legislators, tow operators and the public — raised about safety, cost, efficiency, and response times were proven under the contract,” Hutchinson said. “We had concerns about the veracity, ability, and competence of the vendor. These issues probably not only ended the discussions of a statewide contract, they likely were at the root of the end of the program in the Troop E region.”

Bivens invited all participants of the pilot program to be added to the town lists and call rotations of the PSP.  Towers that did not participate in the program but earlier provided towing services prior to the start of the program will be invited to rejoin the PSP’s network of towing service providers at the discretion of the PSP.

All towers in the new network will be required to pass an inspection or re-inspection of their equipment and facilities by PSP personnel within 180 days of rejoining. Towing service providers who do not pass the required inspection/re-inspection will be promptly removed from the PSP tow list(s) at the affected PSP station(s).

“I would like to thank the Pennsylvania Towing Association for its valued insight and feedback during the TPA Towing Pilot Program,” wrote Bivens. “The PSP is looking forward to working with your organization in the future as we continue to explore ways to improve emergency towing services for those who live, visit, and work in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”


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