Memphis impound lot so over capacity, tow truck drivers take to city council for solutions

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 10:40 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The car theft epidemic in Memphis has created yet another problem.

There’s no room at the inn at the city’s impound lot in Frayser. It is packed to capacity, and customers and tow truck operators say wait times and fees are agonizing.

Having your car stolen or getting into a car accident is hard enough. Losing a whole day at work to go get your car from the Memphis police impound lot requires a great deal of patience and money.

And that’s even if the staff at the impound lot can find your car.

Clifford Bynum and his brother Taylen spent all day at the MPD lot trying to recover his stolen car.

“These are the cars the bad guys want,” Clifford said, pointing to his ride. “And they didn’t even steal anything out of my car. I’ve been here five, six hours now and I’m missing work. I’m missing work. That’s money I’m supposed to be making right now.”

The lot is built to hold 2,000 cars.

But with the city’s explosion in car thefts, 4,000-plus vehicles are now crammed into part of what used to be the old International Harvester plant. 

The city acquired the property in the 1980s and opened the impound lot in the early ‘90s.

A tow truck driver who declined to give his name spent 11 hours waiting to pick up a car and put it on his wrecker.

He told Action News 5, “The wait is so long. It’s very ill-managed up here. The cars are so packed together that they’re bumper to bumper, and sometimes they’re crushed against each other. The best way to put it: the forklift has a hard time getting around. I mean, there are potholes that would swallow a semi.”

More frustrated tow truck operators went before the Memphis City Council on Tuesday.

“There were 80 companies on rotation 10 years ago when I started my company,” said Evan Mealer with Blues City Towing. “Now it’s down to about 40. The reason is, it’s not economically viable. That’s part of the problem you’re having, with tow truck response times for police.”

“We can’t afford to keep tying up trucks at the low rate we’re receiving now,” Nathaniel Fripp of 901 Express Towing & Recovery told the council. “We need an increase.”

The City of Memphis currently pays $125 a tow, a price that has not changed in 16 years.

A company called Auto Return made a presentation to the council on streamlining the towing process using a new dispatch system. 

Shelby County Government, they said, is among their newest clients.

But when tow truck operators were asked what they thought of the company’s pitch to the city, loud groans and a collective “no, absolutely not” could be heard from the audience.

“Our issue here in the city is not dispatch,” said towing operator Angela Inman. “Our issue in this city is at the impound lot.”

It’s an impound lot that is overflowing with cars and long wait times, and customers say the city needs to fix it and fix it fast.

“I mean it’s messed up,” said Clifford. “It’s messed up. It’s messed up that the car got stolen in the first place. It’s messed up bro.”

”It’s ridiculous,” said the tow truck driver who’d been at the lot since 5 a.m. and was still there at 4 p.m. when Action News 5 arrived. “It’s time for a change!”

Building a new impound lot, staffing up and creating a workflow that actually works better for customers, and hiring Auto Return to help with the process are all options for the city council to consider.

Action News 5′s request to talk with someone at MPD about the problems at the impound lot was denied, and no additional information was provided by the police agency.

An MPD spokesperson would only say: “a review of the impound lot will be presented at the next city council meeting.”

The next meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 24.

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