Getting a ticket when you've parked illegally is a pain.
You can argue that the system is designed to put you in foul, and most folks would agree, but at the end of the day, you have to admit you tried to beat the system and you got caught. It stinks, but that's the way it goes.
Getting a ticket when you have done nothing wrong – when, in fact, you've actually made an effort to obey the law – is a whole new level of rage.
It becomes clear that whether you're guilty is of little consequence. Parking officers never let that get in the way of issuing a nice yellow ticket.
Take the case of Daniel Franke. Last summer, the Ottawa Citizen reported that he'd been given 10 parking tickets despite the fact he had a valid permit "prominently displayed on the passenger side of the dashboard." Franke had informed city officials and they voided the tickets. But it doesn't seem like they were too concerned or too surprised.
Personally, I always believed that examples like Franke's were the exception not the rule, but I learned otherwise a few weeks back.
Relatives drove up from the United States for a visit. They planned on parking on the street overnight, so we went online and paid for a temporary parking permit. We printed it and stuck the permit on the dashboard on the left-hand side, just as we'd been directed by the instructions. We thought nothing more of it.
Until the following morning, when we awoke to discover that a parking officer had visited and left a ticket on their car. The ticket stated that the vehicle had been parked illegally, despite the fact that the permit we'd bought was visible and placed in the appropriate location. A strange fluke, we assumed, until the car's owner walked the street and discovered that, lo and behold, every vehicle with out-of-province plates had been given a ticket – even the ones with valid permits.
Here was a case of bilking in the first degree. It appeared that the officer had simply decided to hit every out-of-towner with a ticket.
Why not? A few would rip it up and the rest will pay the fine rather than return to challenge the ticket in person or ask a proxy to do so. They've got a quota (whether they admit it or not) and neither sleet nor hail nor sunshine nor common human decency will prevent them from meeting it. I understand. If these guys don't make their quotas, they might get fired and have to take a job euthanizing puppies (the only gig worse than parking enforcement).
I brought the offending parking ticket down to Metro Hall to dispute it, expecting a big lineup and fight. I filled out the form, took my number and braced myself.
When my turn came, I presented the ticket and the valid permit and began to recite the argument I'd been practising. It was unnecessary. Before I could start, the attendant cancelled it. She barely looked up. The subtext was obvious. This sort of cheap play was so frequent she could perform her role by rote. She'd evidently done this a thousand times.
I'm not arguing that we should get rid of parking officers. The situation on the roads is bad enough; without the threat of a ticket, it would be utter chaos. But it seems undeniable that Canadian municipal governments view parking enforcement as a revenue stream. If we're going to issue tickets to people who are obviously innocent in the hope that they'll just roll over and pay, why not go all the way?
- Randomly tow cars and hold them for ransom?
- Shut off the water supply to random homes and refuse to turn it back on until the residents pay a fine?
- Remove the tires from cars and refuse to return them until a “tire fee” is paid?
- Jail people and don’t free them until they pay a “freedom tax?”
- Slap repossession notices on houses and threaten to foreclose if the owners don’t pay a “house health tax?”
These might seem a little extreme at first, but I think we'll grow accustomed to them. The key step has been taken. Whether you're in Vancouver, Regina, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal or Halifax, it's now considered okay for a city to fleece its residents for offences they didn't commit.
We need to think big. We need the revenue. If bureaucrats, politicians and parking officers all work together, we might eventually see a day when a parking officer can tell a frustrated driver, "I'm sorry, sir, but do you have a permit for your permit?"
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy