Proposed city ordinance could lower booting fees, change booting regulations

Meara Isenberg

A new city ordinance proposed by the Austin Police Department could cap booting fees at $50 and change how booting companies operate in Austin.

APD presented the ordinance during an Urban Transportation Commission meeting on July 10, and the proposal will go up for a City Council vote on Aug. 9.

When a person parks on a private property and then walks into a different establishment without patronizing the business the parking lot is designated for, the car is immobilized with a boot, said Joe Santiago, a consultant with Central Towing, which operates in Austin.

Santiago said that while there is currently no cap on what booting companies can charge, the price to remove a boot is typically $150 in Austin, and all the money then goes to the booting company.

Currently in Texas, all booting is regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. But on Sept. 1, a law passed during the 2017 Texas legislative session will go into effect and leave the regulation of booting companies up to cities.

The law, SB 2065, allows local authorities to regulate the operation of booting companies, which includes permitting and sign requirements, as well as booting fees.

“Right now, we do not currently have any regulations on booting; it is all done through TDLR,” said Eric Miesse, an APD commander, during the meeting. “But effective Sept. 1, they will not regulate any licensing or complaints.”

Miesse said APD has received complaints about booting fees and the fact that booters are not required to wear a uniform to make themselves identifiable.

“There are, we understand, some predatory practices out there,” Miesse said during the meeting. “(Booters) are just watching for people to leave the site so they can just put a boot on.”

In addition to capping the boot removal fee, Miesse said APD’s proposed ordinance would require booting operators to become licensed with the city, undergo background checks and visibly wear their license at all times.

During her freshman year, Nasa Xu said she walked into Kung Fu Tea in West Campus and, after spending a few minutes to buy a drink, walked out to find her car booted after parking just one lot over.

Xu, a psychology and biology junior, said she paid $150 to get her boot removed, but a lower boot removal fee would have sent her the same message.

“I had to pay $150, so I was super traumatized, but even if I had to pay $50, I still wouldn’t do that again,” Xu said.

Santiago said he is in favor of regulations on booting, such as making sure there are clear signs that explain when a parking spot is designated for a certain business and that booting can occur immediately.

However, Santiago said capping the booting fee at $50 encourages booting companies to tow cars, which is more expensive and a much bigger pain for car owners — who then have to retrieve their vehicle from a tow lot.

“They are regulating booting out of business, and you really can’t do that because then you’re creating a monopoly for the towing industry,” Santiago said. “The booting companies are going to buy tow trucks. Then you are going to have congestion, traffic and people towed, which is even worse (than booting).”