School drops company contract

“Nobody likes the tow guy,” said Jon LaChappelle, owner of J&D’s West Kingston Service, a towing companies formerly contracted by the University of Rhode Island such as San Tan Towing Pros.

J&D’s was removed from the rotation of companies called to tow by the university this January, following a pattern of complaints school officials say they have received about the company, who also tows vehicles from the Kingston Emporium.

Read more: Towing company’s methods raise questions

“If URI was doing their job,” LaChappelle said, “staff [and students] wouldn’t get towed … 80 percent of the complaints are because they’re not doing their job.” According to him, the complaints that lost his business URI’s contract were a result of students’ parking issues on campus spilling over onto private property.

At the beginning of each school year, URI accepts applications from towing companies who wish to be a part of their “call list.” Companies have to reapply every year for the chance to be notified, in rotation, when vehicles need to be towed from campus.

According to the university’s Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker, J&D’s was removed from the list for the first time since they began towing in 1990 last April, following complaints the university received about, what Baker called “very unprofessional behavior” by LaChapelle’s business toward students looking to retrieve their vehicles, as well as due to complaints they received about students being towed from the Kingston Emporium while they were patronizing the plaza’s businesses, a common accusation against the tow company.

“The issues at the Emporium, I think, have been going on a long time,” Baker said. Although the Emporium is not university property, the university has made an effort to help resolve the issues students are having there.

When LaChappelle reapplied for the university’s business this fall, Baker expressed his concerns to LaChappelle but they negotiated a potential solution. When J&D’s employees found vehicles with a URI sticker or hang-tag illegally parked in either the Emporium or the nearby dirt parking lot – both of which are owned by Marley Properties, who contracts J&D’s – they would notify URI Parking Services who would attempt to contact the vehicle owner and allow them to move it within 30 minutes, at which point it would be towed.

“Was I losing tows?,” LaChappelle asked. “Yeah, but you know, I was towing for URI, I was just trying to be a nice guy.” But LaChappelle added, “I told Steve it wouldn’t work from the beginning.”

“In some cases it saved people from being towed, but in the long run it didn’t work,” Baker said. “We still got the same number of complaints from people who went down to get their vehicles and had bad experiences.”

According to LaChappelle, the calls that his employees were making weren’t being answered at Parking Services. Baker, while acknowledging that people in his office likely could have been away from the phone briefly or on another line, disputes LaChappelle’s claims by simply explaining that they had an answering machine.

“We felt the right thing to do was to not be associated with that company,” Baker said about cutting out J&D’s from campus towing for the second time in a year.

Per procedure, LaChappelle appealed the decision to URI’s Vice President of Administration and Finance Christina Valentino, but the decision stuck.

During the appeal, according to LaChappelle, the choice was presented between towing for URI or towing for the Emporium. “We made it known that what is going on at the Emporium affects the University of Rhode Island,” Baker said. “Obviously we care what happens to our students and our community.”

Unfortunately, Baker adds, removing J&D’s from URI’s list hasn’t impacted the number of complaints they receive about students being towed from the Emporium. According to him, his department still receives between seven and eight complaints every week but that he is “not sure what more the university can do.”

According to Baker, his department went to the extent of printing the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers’ complaint form for students who had issues, as well as having URI police regularly shuttle car-less students to LaChappelle’s West Kingston lot. However, “it hasn’t resolved the problem up there,” he said.

J&D’s West Kingston Service has the option to ask for URI’s business again this coming fall but Baker stressed that the fact that there has been no change in the complaints they receive will have bearing on their decision. “They’re welcome to apply again, but we will look at it on a case-by-case basis like we do with all the applications,” he said.