Parking Tickets: Toronto Makes Them Tough to Fight, Easy to Pay, says Ombudsman

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The City of Toronto makes it much easier to pay parking tickets than to fight them, says city ombudsman Fiona Crean.

Crean released a report Thursday urging the city to better inform motorists of circumstances that could cause a ticket to be cancelled before trial, to change wording on tickets that “downplay” the trial option, and consider a payment-dispute system completely outside the courts.

“There is a lack of balance of information on the ticket and on the (city) website,” Crean said in an interview, adding the website information is “either obfuscated or not clear,” on alternatives to straight payment.

The City of Toronto has developed a system over the years which encourages motorists to pay the fines from the tickets they receive, rather than fight them. On July 3, 2008, the City of Toronto eliminated night court, where motorists could fight their tickets, without having to take a day off from work. Since night court was eliminated 4 years ago, all trials for tickets take place at either 1:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. during weekdays, creating an additional barrier to motorists who work for a living.

“I’m not saying (the system) is wrong. I’m saying drivers need the full spectrum of information so they can decide how best to proceed.”

Toronto issued 2.8 million tickets last year worth $80 million. After expenses, those fines parked $21 million in city coffers. Some 138,000 tickets were cancelled for one reason or another.

Crean’s report, sparked by “many, many” complaints from the public, concludes the current system “provided reasonable service to recipients, given demands and available resources,” but should be improved.

Crean recommended the city:

• Expand and clarify information on the tickets themselves, on the city website and at parking tag offices. The information gives no indication that tickets are sometimes cancelled by staff at the city’s four parking ticket offices before they get to court. The guidelines staff follow for ticket cancellation should be available at those offices, and a link to it more prominently featured on the city’s website.

•  Expand use of phone, email and fax contacts to explore ticket issues when in-person visits are not required. Crean concluded that the requirement to set a trial date in person is “not unreasonable,” but people should not be forced to go to an office for other communications.

•  Require parking ticket office staff to proactively identify and assist motorists whose tickets could be cancelled under the guidelines.

•  Proceed with initiatives to reduce unnecessary trials, including a fixed fine system (starting in the new year, justices of the peace will no longer be able to reduce fines at trial) and a special permit to let couriers and delivery companies park in some no-parking zones for a limited time.

• Look hard at moving to an “alternative dispute model,” like those of Oshawa, Vaughan and Vancouver, where motorists pay the fine but can appeal to a screening officer and, if necessary, a city tribunal instead of the courts. The city fears such a system would be vulnerable to a legal challenge. Crean says the city should ask the province to get a court ruling on the matter.

Michael Low, of Parking Ticket Guys, a service that fights tickets in return for motorists paying half the fine, called Crean’s report “long overdue.”

“It’s obvious the whole system is prejudicial against people who want to fight,” he said. Who’s going to take a day off work to fight a $30 ticket? It’s a cash grab.”

The city agrees with Crean’s recommendations, a city spokeswoman said, and plans to implement them by the end of 2013.

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