Lax booting regulations cause grief for Austin citizens

Paul Cobler

Businessmen, wrecker company owners and students just trying to find a parking spot all agree: Car booting is not a pleasant experience in Austin.

This feeling of discontent from all sides centers around the state laws and city ordinances surrounding the practice. Currently, the City of Austin does not regulate booting, said Detective Thomas Ballard of the Austin Police Department’s Wrecker Enforcement Unit. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation supervises the practice at the state level, but Joe Santiago, owner of Capital Parking ATX, said the current laws are far too lax.

“With TDLR there is no price cap (on fines,)” said Santiago, whose company provides booting services in Austin. “You want to charge $500? You can. You see a Mercedes and want to charge $1,000? You can. They have that rules and regulations structure for towing, but none for booting.”

Santiago said he believes if Austin begins to regulate booting, it will benefit everyone involved by making the practice more legitimate.

“I think you need more regulations, they just need to be the right regulations,” Santiago said. “It’s a problem when you have these guys that can get a license for $250, then charge $150 per boot. That’s when you start getting the riff-raff out there booting like crazy.”

Capital Towing Austin currently charges $150 for the removal of a boot, according to their website, but Santiago said he is in favor of decreasing his company’s removal fee and increasing the cost to be licensed in Texas to as much as $50,000 to ensure only serious companies are booting.

As recently as three weeks ago, Santiago’s company operated in the parking lot of I Luv Vintage and Spider House Cafe and Ballroom, owned by Conrad Bejarano. Santiago said his employees would monitor the lots and immediately boot drivers parked illegally. 

“As an owner, we get zero compensation for it,” Bejarano said. “It all goes to the towing or booting company. Who likes booting? No one likes to get booted, and it sucks.”

Bejarano said he dealt with people illegally parked in his lots for 10 years before finally hiring Santiago’s company.

“A lot of the responsibility goes to Austin, in fact, it all goes to Austin,” Bejarano said. “There isn’t any infrastructure within the city, and there isn’t any parking because everyone is dependent on driving … I’m the scum for hiring a booting company that monitors it, and they have to pay 150 bucks. I’m sorry it sucks, but I need that parking for my customers.”

Detective Tom Ballard said he and the City Attorney’s office recently submitted a new booting ordinance to the Austin City Council, but it won’t be heard until later in the year. The ordinance would create numerous city regulations on the practice, Ballard said. 

“You have to make this a legitimate business,” Santiago said. “You have to charge the companies that want to do this big money and fine them real money. Then, they have to be able to recoup this money, so you’ve got to be able to charge the right amount.”

Music education junior Jessica Martinez, who was booted in the Spider House parking lot, said she agrees there is a need for greater regulation around booting in Austin.

“I think in Austin, but especially here, we’re all students,” Martinez said. “We have other things to worry about. It was the end of the summer, and I’m not rich. When that happened it really hurt my bank account, and that’s probably the same for a lot of other people.”