Business Owner Says City Quietly Ended 20-Year Agreement
If you got a surprise parking ticket downtown this month, you’re not alone.
After two decades of an informal agreement between the city and downtown merchants, parking meter staff are now giving out tickets starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.
John Rutherford, who owns Black Cat on Durham Street, said the change was a shock to many customers and others who frequent downtown.
“This is ridiculous,” Rutherford said. “It’s one more reason for people not to come downtown.”
Rutherford said he was there when an agreement was worked out with the former City of Sudbury, although he admits he’s not sure if it was ever put into writing.
It was when the YMCA was moving from Paris Street to Durham Street, and the city was looking for support from downtown merchants.
“There was an agreement that Downtown Sudbury, in return for $50,000 in goods and services and cash,” he said. “The quid pro quo being the city wouldn’t enforce parking meters until 10 and not after 5. That’s been in place for 20 years.”
Rutherford said it was a way to encourage people to shop downtown a little earlier or later in the day, since traditionally, most downtown shopping is done between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“It was seen as a way to get people shifted, to get them to come early or after-hours,” he said. “It was a kindly, cordial incentive to encourage people to shop downtown.”
City staff he’s talked to since May 1 have told him the change was a result of complaints from merchants over a lack of turnover at downtown meters. But Rutherford isn’t buying that, especially since meters on Durham Street now have a two-hour time limit, compared to one hour they used to have.
“Two hours encourages people to stay downtown longer and occupy that space longer.”
Darlene Barker, the city’s manager of bylaw enforcement and compliance, said she’s only been with the city for a couple of years, so she doesn’t have any first-hand knowledge about any agreement and hasn’t found anything in writing. But she said the bylaw clearly states that parking meter enforcement is from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
“There are instructions on every single meter downtown that says that,” Barker said. “I don’t exactly if there was any agreement made, but it would have been contrary to what the bylaw says.”
There are two full-time people who enforce parking rules downtown, she said. Since May 1, they have also been monitoring municipal parking lots and their shifts have been extended until 6 p.m., compared to 4:30.
Barker said there was a surge in the number of tickets being issued at the start of May, but that’s levelled off. But she said the increase may be related to the longer hours and the fact the staff are now responsible for the lots, as well as the meters.
“The biggest thing we changed was the hours of operation of our current staff,” she said.
While the rules have not changed, Barker said the city is willing to forgive tickets by people caught by surprise. All they have to do is bring them into the enforcement and compliance department at Tom Davies Square.
“They can bring their ticket down to us and we can discuss it with them and we’ll review the ticket,” she said.
The goal is to ensure there are as many parking spots available as possible for people who want to make quick shopping trips downtown, she said.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure there’s fair and consistent parking downtown available to everybody,” Barker said. “And the best way we can do that, and really the only way available to us, is through enforcement of the bylaw to ensure that people are not taking advantage of that parking area.”
The fine for parking at an expired meter is $20, but it’s reduced to $15 if you pay within seven days. If you ignore it long enough, additional fines and costs can boost the ticket to around $60. The fines must be paid before you can renew your sticker for your license plate.
Barker said the city informed the Downtown BIA of the change before May 1, and expected them to let their members know. But Rutherford said a public announcement should have been made. He wants the old policy to return, and for anyone who got a ticket during those times to be reimbursed.
“They offered first-time offenders that they would forgive the ticket at the office where you pay it, but the number of people who would know that, and not just send it in by mail or something, would be insignificant,” he said. “And we had been telling people you can park for free before 10 and after 5.”