Getting The Hook: A New Policy for Tow Truck Operators in the GTA


The GTA is home to some of the busiest roads in Canada, in fact, the 401 across the top of Toronto has been called the busiest road in North America. Breakdowns and accidents just add to the delays, chaos, and confusion and increase driving hazards. Numerous problems, overcharging and violence have been rising in the GTA Tow Truck industry and are one of the main reasons that have led the provincial government to initiate a pilot Tow Zone policy on certain GTA Highways. 

The Tow Zone Pilot program aims to increase safety and sustainability while clearing highways quickly and safely. It will also help eliminate some of the alarming corruption inside the industry. 

The pilot program is to last over the next 4 years and allows only authorized towing companies to hook up your vehicle. The main aim is to keep the highways safer. It will ensure tow operators have the proper training, experience, and equipment to clear highways in a safe efficient manner. While aiding in reducing congestion and delays on GTA highways. The policy will also provide reasonable tow rates for drivers and companies by providing standard pricing and invoicing for towing services in the restricted tow zones.

The background story is that the “GTA towing industry” has a long history of corruption and predatory pricing. 

In the summer of 2020, the province announced a tow industry task force to work with police, public safety experts, municipal and industry partners. Premier Doug Ford at the time said that the growing violence in the industry was “totally unacceptable.” Ford directed his message “To all the bad actors out there, my message is clear: the party’s over, we’re coming for you, we’ll catch you, and we will lock you up.”

Earlier this year in a towing corruption probe by the OPP, charges were laid against 4 veteran officers. OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said that the officers had given preference to a particular tow company “in exchange for benefits to the officers.”

Violence has plagued the GTA towing industry for a number of years, as tow-truck drivers compete for territory and are known as “accident chasers”.

Driving in GTA can be stressful at best. Vehicles that have been involved in a crash may need repairs, drivers or passengers may require medical assistance. Playing politics with corrupt tow operators is the last thing they need. But, there are some in repair businesses who are willing to pay tow-truck drivers to bring them business. Perhaps a single crash can result in repairs and insurance claims well into the thousands of dollars. 

Media reports say that more than 50 tow trucks have been burned, and violence between tow operators has broken out with fistfights and even shootings at crash scenes. At least four men with ties to the industry have been killed.

Over 30 people were charged in 2020 by York Region Police after an operation looking into the towing industry. The optics of this are poor at best. Premier Doug Ford’s government pledge to crack down on corruption and violence lagged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The continued increase of violence and corruption within the industry became untenable and forced this action at the provincial level, making the Tow Zone Pilot program essential. 

Undoubtedly the government has been facing pressure from insurance industry lobbying as well. The tow industry corruption affects us all as towing costs and accident repair bills escalate, rising costs for insurance companies and finally for consumers as we see the result in increased insurance bills. 

This crackdown became necessary for the well-being of all.

When vehicles are blocking live lanes of a busy highway the first priority is to get people and their vehicles safely cleared. with designated operators that task becomes more efficient, safe, and less costly. 

The Ontario Trucking Association began working with the OPP, the MTO, the heavy towing industry, and others to help initiate change in the towing industry. The multifaceted goals were to improve collision clearance times, ensure consumer protection and improve the overall safety of incident management on Ontario highways. 

Geoff Wood, OTA’s Sr. VP., Policy was stated as saying “ the provincial government’s policy would bring accountability and transparency to towing.” 

The Canadian trucking industry depends on the GTA highway system as its main artery which is essential to Canada’s supply chain. The policy will ensure that those in need of tow services will no longer fall victim to the corrupt few in the industry who prey on those in unfortunate situations.

The New GTA Restricted Zones Are:

  • Restricted Towing Zone 1 is from Highway 401 from Highway 400 east to Morningside Avenue.
  • Restricted Towing Zone 2 includes Highway 401 from Highway 400 west to Regional Road 25. Highway 427 from QEW to Highway 409, and Highway 409 from Highway 427 to Highway 401.
  • Restricted Towing Zone 3 is along Highway 400 from Highway 401 to Highway 9.
  • Restricted Towing Zone 4 is on the QEW from Highway 427 to Brant Street.

Official signage along the highway sections will designate the tow zones. In restricted towing zones only authorized towing companies will be allowed to remove disabled vehicles. Other towing companies will not be allowed to solicit business in restricted towing zones. The government will ensure that the eligible towing companies have been vetted and under direct government supervision. The policy also includes constant monitoring, a complaint line, and options for dispute resolution.

Towing of breakdowns and impoundments will be based on a flat rate and include a towing distance of 10 KMs. Collision towing is to be rated hourly with a one-hour minimum, with additional 30-minute increments if needed.

Previous challenges with towing operators charging trucking companies four-hour minimums for the removal of disabled vehicles will no longer be permitted and owners of the vehicles will have the right to decide where their vehicles are taken.

Thankfully the provincial government followed up on its words of a crackdown in the GTA towing industry. Onerous operators will not be allowed to act as highway vampires, sucking the monetary blood out of unsuspecting and unfortunate victims of vehicle mishaps and breakdowns on GTA highways. A welcome example, that actions really do speak louder than words.

While a teenager Tony was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue his love of aviation and began a career began in the airline world during his days in high school and university as he grew up in Toronto. After completing University at Guelph he moved to Ottawa, following a path in urban agriculture and environmental awareness. He shared his insights for over 2 decades as he appeared on TV, and radio, as the "Plant D octor", and operating his own business in horticulture. Later he reentered the transport industry and became involved in the manufacture and marketing of sustainable fuel-saving and safety products for the truck industry. He is director of an African American art collection based in Washington D.C. Today he writes passionately about transportation, sustainability, concerns of our modern-day world, and the intrigue of the human condition.