The ins and outs of parking fines

Anyone who attended the community town hall meeting on Feb. 4 at The Balmy Beach Club about traffic and parking in the Beach didn’t feel the love in the room, but rather the frustration.  An open and heated discussion with city transit staff, hosted by Ward 32 Councilor Mary-Margaret McMahon, showed the raw emotions of residents who are tired of parking issues. Residents shared their frustration about unrestrained developments that will bring more traffic, more gridlock, more congestion and more parking permits into our already congested neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, the only certainty to come from the increased traffic will be the frustration you feel when you approach your car and see that familiar bright yellow ticket flapping under your windshield wiper.  With new developments and more traffic, the competition for parking spaces will increase – and so will parking tickets and parking fines.

The fines are a cash cow for the city. The city issues about 2.8 million tickets each year. Parking fines generate about $80 million in revenue annually. Fines go as high as $450 for parking in a handicapped space, but most are for infractions carrying $30 to $60 fines.

It is no secret that the system is structured to make it difficult to fight a ticket in Toronto without going to an enormous amount of expense and complexity. The city knows that fighting a parking ticket just doesn’t make financial sense for most of us. People fight them on principle, giving up valuable time and energy. To have a ticket reviewed for cancellation, or to dispute a parking ticket, you or your representative must attend in person at one of the City’s four parking ticket counters (First Appearance Facilities). But you must first come to court to get a trial date – more time off work. You can no longer request a trial date by mail. You must face line ups, clerks, and more frustration to either get your ticket cancelled or set down a date for trial. And of course you must pay again for parking while you go line up (and risk a new ticket).

When you visit the city’s website you quickly realize there is no shortage of information available on how to pay a fine. It is easy for you pay in person, by mail, by phone or online. But there is very little information on how to fight your ticket.

Clearly the unstated policy is all about preventing you from challenging the ticket.

Here in the Beach the problem is acutely worse. Other parts of the city have flow-through arteries. But in our neighbourhood we have one real thoroughfare – being poor congested Queen Street – almost acting like a dead end.  Traffic spills into our side streets, displacing others. Then if you misread a sign, forget to put in that extra quarter, or park in the wrong spot on a side street, you will be hit with a fine which can easily top $60 for even a minor infraction.

It’s time to move to a system of administrative penalties and take parking offences out of the courts. People should be allowed to challenge tickets over the phone or internet. It would save time, and money. And it would not reduce city revenue. Although it is officially denied or downplayed, there is a quota system in place.  One report stated that there are 412 parking control officers who write an average of 69 tickets a day each, 365 days a year. Officers are under pressure to produce revenue, as many off-the-record conversations have reported. Many fairly believe that the city’s parking enforcement apparatus is about finding revenue rather than ensuring orderly traffic flow.

There is currently an ombudsman’s recommendation that the city set up a ‘Disputing Your Ticket’ web page. It would publish the city’s guidelines on ticket cancellations. This would be a good step forward.  But no firm date or real commitment is in place.

The real maddening thing is that city councillors get free parking at all the Green P lots in Toronto.  If this perk ended, parking matters could become a real priority, since our elected representatives would face the same parking issues as the public they serve. In the meantime, be prepared. As the new developments continue, so will the congestion, and the parking enforcement officers not far behind.

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