Monday, 22 December 2014

Toronto's Parking Policies Just Plain Unfair

This past weekend, my father went to park on St. Clair Ave.  He went to the parking meter to pay, only to find that the meter was out of order.  As a result, he had to walk more than a block away to the next closest meter.  The same thing happened to him just hours before I wrote this post.  My father is certainly not disabled, although he is in his late 60s, so he's no spring chicken either.  But just imagine this kind of thing happening to someone who does have mobility issues and for whom walking a block or more to the next meter could be quite difficult.  Not that Toronto Parking Enforcement cares.  So the meter's out of order?  No excuses!  You have to find another one, no matter how far it is.  If you don't, you'll end up with a nice, shiny yellow ticket.  The same goes for those of you who thought you found the perfect parking space and paid the meter, only to get back to your car to find a ticket on your window saying you parked too close to a fire hydrant.  Never mind that the hydrant is hidden in the bushes and no one can see it.  But of course, the blue hornets know it's there and they'll show you no mercy.  Unclear signage as an excuse?  Forget it.  As long as Toronto Parking Enforcement knows how to read them, you're busted!  For all they care, the signs could be written in gibberish.  And how about those jerks amongst the blue hornets who will do almost whatever it takes to make sure you get a ticket.  I've heard all sorts of stories.  My mom once told me about an officer who literally stood by a person's car looking at his watch until time was up and he could write up a ticket.  I can also remember a news crew that got stuck with a ticket - before their time had even expired!  Then there was that time when a parking enforcement officer wrote someone a ticket for not paying the meter, even though the ticket from the meter was clearly displayed on his dashboard.  I'm sure everyone in the city who drives has plenty of stories of their own to tell about the merciless officers of Toronto Parking Enforcement.   

Want to fight a parking ticket?  Good luck!  First, you have to show up in person at one of the city's far-flung First Appearance Facilities, wait in line for what can seem like an eternity just to spend a minute or two to tell some civil servant that you want to contest your ticket - unless you're fortunate enough to have access to e-mail and a scanner or fax machine in which case the city will allow you to send your ticket and any other supporting documents in order to issue a challenge without having to appear in person.  But for those of you who did something more serious, like park near one of those concealed fire hydrants, I'm afraid this probably won't work (click here for information on parking ticket disputes).  When you finally get your day in court - albeit several months after you got the ticket (at least) - you'll probably have to shell out a small wad of cash if you want to park anywhere near the courthouse.  Having fun so far?  Next, you get to sit in the courtroom and wait forever while all the other poor saps who got tickets get their hearing.  Finally, it's your turn.  You plead your case, then the JP gives you grief and tells you that you entered the wrong plea and instead of pleading not guilty, you should have pleaded guilty with explanation.  Personally, I don't like being talked down to whether you're a judge or not.  By the time your ordeal is over, you may have spent a lot of time and money just to get your ticket reduced by a few bucks, depending on how generous the JP happens to be that day.  It's bad enough that Toronto's parking rules are unfair, but it gets even worse when you realize that City Hall will do everything it can to make fighting a parking ticket as inconvenient as possible.  Why?  Because parking tickets are a big cash cow for the city.  All of us who drive know this.  So what should we do about it?

The short answer is that we need to change some of Toronto's parking policies and ensure that those policies are enforced fairly.  And when I say fairly, I mean that the folks at City Hall need to tell the blue hornets at Toronto Parking Enforcement to use some common sense.  So for example, if someone parks too close to a fire hydrant, but the location of the hydrant is not clearly marked, the first instinct of a TPA officer should not be to write a ticket.  It should be to let someone at City Hall know so that they can make sure the hydrant in question is properly marked before any other blue hornet starts handing out tickets to any offending parties.  And of course, let's not forget the example of my father's misfortune with the parking meters that I started this post with.  The rule about this should be that whenever the meter closest to you is out of order, you can park for free so long as you parked legally, until the meter is fixed.  Otherwise, what incentive does the city have to fix its meters in a timely manner?

Finally, whenever someone wants to contest a parking infraction, he or she should not have to go through the inconvenience of going out of their way to go to some municipal office to stand in line forever just to challenge a ticket.  While allowing people to contest their tickets via fax or e-mail makes the whole dispute process less onerous, I think that people should just be able to go onto a city website or call a dedicated municipal phone number, enter the number of their ticket and indicate that they want to challenge it in court.  A similar process already exists for people who just opt to pay their tickets without contesting them.  But God forbid if they want to challenge a ticket.  The folks at City Hall need to get it through their thick skulls that parking enforcement needs to be about enforcing the law, not using the rules to grab as much cash from Joe Taxpayer as possible.   

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