Let me digress for a moment: Parking Tickets in Halifax Regional Municipality
I am not happy with how Halifax Regional Municipality gives out parking tickets, and one of the advantages of having a blog is that I have a forum to vent some frustration. Hopefully my experience will help others avoid the same mistakes.
A few weeks ago I parked in a 2 hour parking zone near where I work. I left the zone and came back around two and a half hours later. I parked near the original spot because it was the closest one available to my office. I returned to my car an hour or so later to find a ticket. It stated that I had moved my vehicle in the same zone. I was perplexed. I was not there for more than two hours in total. And what constituted a "zone"? Was I forbidden to park on the same street more than once a day? In the same neighbourhood? Anywhere in Halifax?
So I tried to find some more information to learn where I had gone wrong.
The ticket was issued under S. 151 of the NS Motor Vehicle Act. I looked this up online and learned that: "The traffic authority [i.e. HRM] is hereby authorized to erect and maintain signs prohibiting or restricting parking ... it shall be an offence for the driver of a vehicle to fail to comply with the directions set forth on those signs . R.S., c. 293, s. 151."
This is pretty vague, but the intent is fairly clear: HRM is allowed to issue tickets if and when someone does not comply with the directions set forth on their own signs. The relevant sign in my case only indicated that parking was limited to 2 consecutive hours during certain hours of the day. It did NOT state that parking over non-consecutive periods was forbidden or restricted in any way, and that I could not return to an unspecified AREA (not actually the same spot) during any particular time period. Nor does it say what areas are subsequently off limit. In other words, to the best of my knowledge, I HAD complied with the sign, which contained no "directions" to speak of.
So, I set out to learn the precise meaning of the sign in the eyes of HRM.
To my surprise, the HRM website (www.halifax.ca/traffic/reports/OnStreet.php) provided NO clarification whatsoever on how the sign is meant to be understood. NONE. [Note: this link was dead when I tested it on 18 February 2016, and I cannot find any guidance at all on the HRM website about their current sign policies]
So, as far as HRM is concerned, the only way to find out what this sign means is to call 311 and make inquiries as to why I got a ticket. I spoke to a woman who was able to provide some clarification, but I was still not happy. I had NOT parked in this zone for more than two hours in total during the course of the day. I made a point of removing my car from my original parking spot in a good faith effort to ensure that I was not in the same spot more than 2 consecutive hours. This was the only explicit restriction set forth on the signs.
Naturally, I filed an appeal. I received a reply not long afterward from S. Daniel Topple, the "parking ticket review clerk" (email@example.com). Daniel was not very helpful, but I suppose that's his job. He informed me how the "zone" system worked, but seemed to be under the impression I had been parked up to four hours in the same zone. His verdict:
Unfortunately, given the circumstances of your request for a review, this ticket is valid from a review standpoint, however if you can provide some sort of proof you left the zone during the timing on the ticket we can continue the review.
You still have the option of disputing the ticket in court, and if you choose to wait a summons will be mailed to you and provide you with the opportunity to do so.
Dear Mr Topple,
Thank you for providing this explanation. I cannot, however, agree with your conclusion or the logic by which you arrived at it.
To begin with, you write: "The signage indicates 2 hour parking between 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. The intent is clear that it only allows parking for a maximum of 2 hours between those hours."
The intent of this is NOT clear. If it was clear, I would not have parked there twice in the same day and risked a ticket. I made a more-than-reasonable attempt to avoid any problems by removing my car and subsequently returning to a different spot. There were numerous other spots available in the general area. I simply chose ones near my office. And in my defence, I do have to say that I am pretty proficient in deciphering the meaning of the English language! In other words, because something is clear to you that does not necessarily mean it will be clear to everyone. That is why, I assume, the Motor Vehicle Act requires information to be indicated ON SIGNs -- i.e. to avoid just this lack of clarity.
Second, you write that I need to provide "some sort of proof you left the zone during the timing on the ticket we can continue the review." I did not meticulously document my travels this day, and I doubt that ANYONE does. Ever. However, I do not see why the burden of proof should rest on me. Is the person issuing the ticket able to provide any sort of proof that I was parked in this zone for more than two hours during this day? The ticket seems to acknowledge, at least, that the car was not there continuously. At most, I assume they can only show that I was there on two separate occasions, more than two hours apart. But this does not "prove" I exceeded the two hour daily total within a particular zone. ...
To be clear, then, you have explained here your policy regarding how these signs are interpreted and enforced, but you have not addressed my claim that none of this is valid because your policy is not actually posted on the sign -- as required by law. Nor can this policy be inferred from the information on the sign. Therefore there is no way I could be expected to know any of this, especially since, as you admit, this information is not made publicly available, at least not before a ticket is issued. Your email, really, boils down to a plea that "this is the way we choose to do it, so we don't have to change our mind".
I wrote again shortly afterwards when it became clear that Mr Topple was skirting around the issues I was raising:
I realise that you are deliberately not addressing my argument about the Act requiring information to be posted on the signs. As I have previously explained, the "intent" of the signage is not really the point here. "Intent" can change, it is open to a range of interpretations, and your "intent" may be at odds with what is on the sign. All that should matter is what is clearly stated on the sign. Why should I be expected to guess your "intent", especially when it is not publicly available?
I need to know where this "Intent" is actually stated in writing. Please provide this information.
As I have previously explained, stating that something is your "intent" or your policy does not make it valid if it is not backed up by the law. You have NOT addressed this point. Forcing me to follow this up in court is unnecessary, time-consuming, and costly.
Mr Topple replied:
The officer cannot be certain if your vehicle had left and came back, or moved within the zone and issued the ticket. (Which is why I asked from a review perspective if you could provide some kind of proof)
Without constant observation, the officer can only determine what information he has gathered when he issues the ticket, but writes moved in same zone, as an observation.
In this particular instance, the circumstances of the ticket are what must be taken to court.
“Intent” Is a word used to describe what is written on the sign.
The sign reads 2 hour parking, 8am-6pm Monday Friday with one, sometimes two arrows at the bottom indicating a direction it extends to meaning you can only park there for up to two hours during those hours.
The point of 2 hour parking is not to facilitate all day parking, it is to allow other vehicles access to a parking area, by limiting the amount of time one vehicle can stay in that zone by 2 hours between 8am and 6pm.
So, the "officer" is not actually certain how long I was there. He is issuing a ticket based on the mere possibility of a violation. And Mr Topple admits it. Victory for me, right? Of course not! My response:
So, as I understand it then, the "officer" believes I was in the zone more than two hours in total, but cannot actually prove it and does not know for certain. Correct?
If you acknowledge this to be true, it strikes me that the ticket should be voided.
Since I cannot definitely prove otherwise, I am saddled with a ticket. Is that really your policy? To issue tickets based on a POSSIBILITY that I committed a violation, and then leave it to me to prove otherwise? If so, this strikes me as a very bad and unfair policy.
I cannot help but think that the real INTENT here is to generate as much revenue as possible. If it was to minimise repeat parking in this area, the meaning of the sign would be made known so that people like me, who wish to avid a ticket, can comply.
I understand the point of the two hour parking. As I have said before, that is not the issue. There were numerous empty spots in this area, so I was not depriving anyone of a spot, and thereby not even violating the spirit of your policy. But still, the fact remains, the NS MV Act only delegates to HRM the authority to issue tickets based on information clearly provided on the signs. You can ignore that fact all you like, but it does not change that you are wrong and are enforcing a bad, and essentially arbitrary, policy. Unfortunately, it also does not change the fact that you can do what you like and are free to ignore my complaints, even if you can't justify them..
I sent a few more emails to Mr Topple asking for clarification on some of the points I had raised. I think he was losing patience with me. His response:
This has been explained to you in the previous emails.
The signage explains itself and there is not a policy in writing describing what the sign has written on the face of it.
The review has been conducted and completed, and you must wait for a summons if you wish to dispute the ticket further.
Okay, so Mr Topple was not going to budge from his position. I therefore asked to be put in touch with his supervisor, who turned out to be:
REGIONAL SUPERVISOR FIELD OPERATIONS
PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT/MUNICIPAL COMPLIANCE
Ms Scolaro (firstname.lastname@example.org) eventually got back to me.
Further to the emails below, I provide the following;
The policy of enforcing the timed parking areas changed in November 2014. This was to address the constant abuse of citizens parking in 1 hour or 2 hour parking all day. Once implemented, we found it was being abused to a much larger scale and people in the area were getting free all day parking by switching places with someone else, going around the block to come back to the same spot, moving a few inches every hour etc. As I believe was mentioned early, the timed parking signs were installed to allow for constant turnover throughout the day. This would allow citizens to get free parking while they ran an errand, had an appointment, quick visit etc for the 1 hour or 2 hour period.
We consulted with our Legal Department prior to the introduction of our new policy. You are correct in stating there is no written policy available to the public, only an internal policy which was rolled out to our contracted parking enforcement officers. Based on your comments regarding the lack of information to the public, we are currently working with our communication department to develop a communications strategy to educate the public regarding the rules surrounding timed parking.
As you have previously stated, the legality of the ticket will need to be addressed through the court system.
Ms Scolaro was, if nothing else, somewhat better informed and more forthcoming than her subordinate, Mr Topple. But she still approached the legal question with all the skill and sophistication of a schoolyard bully. Her argument, in short, is that they can do what they want. I can fight it, of course, but at considerable trouble and cost to myself. It's a lose-lose situation for me, and they know it. My reply:
Thank you for your response.
I remain troubled by a few things. Obviously, the statements recently made to me by Mr Topple were false. He stated that the intent of the sign was so obvious as not to require any explanation. In fact, as you admit, the sign had one meaning before November 2014, and another one after that date. The meaning of the sign is therefore NOT self-evident: it is entirely dependent on your unadvertised and seemingly unwritten internal policies. These policies were altered, moreover, without any attempt to make this obvious on the signs themselves -- as required by the NS MV Act -- or to educate the public. The result is that people such as myself, who genuinely wish to comply with the policy, unintentionally fail to do so.
I must also object again to having received a ticket based on the mere POSSIBILITY of committing (unintentionally) an offence, and then having the burden of proof put on me. As you well know, most individuals will simply pay an unfair fine because it is prohibitively time-consuming and expensive to fight a ticket in court. I should not be punished because I was unaware of the recent change in your policy, especially as I did not violate the letter of the new policy.
Finally, given that your department admits that I was ticketed without any certainty, much less proof, that an offence occurred, it is entirely within your powers to overturn this ticket. I assume that your reluctance to do so stems less from concerns about legality and fairness than an unwillingness to sacrifice a valuable revenue stream.
I urge you to reconsider your policies. I understand the intent behind the current policy, but a different and better way should be found to achieve your goals. I expect better from HRM.
And that is where the matter now rests. Ms Scolaro (email@example.com) obviously sees no reason to do anything about this policy, and why should she? It's not like I can make her do anything. And, probably, she's just doing what she's been told. I copied my last email to the Mayor, Mike Savage, who might be in a position to initiate some sort of policy review, but he doesn't appear to be concerned. Admittedly, he probably has bigger things to worry about. But isn't it his job to provide some sort of oversight for these sorts of policies? I would expect this sort of thing in, say, Toronto, but I had hoped for better here.
I am pretty confident that I am right on this. I don't see how these tickets can be legal, since they do NOT comply with the NS Motor Vehicle Act. And I am sure I am not the only victim of these policies and procedures. A little poking around online shows that other people in HRM have had similar problems. It is also interesting to note that some municipalities DO provide information as to the precise meaning and interpretation of their parking signs. A pity that HRM and its Mayor are more interested in giving tickets and collecting fines.
Update (24 August 2015):
Just ran across this interesting article (http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1304909-parking-tickets-bring-in-4m-f...) which confirms a) that I am not the only one surprised and unhappy about this, and b) that HRM changed its policies without INFORMING THE PUBLIC. It appears the only people told were the "officers" (actually, employees of a contracted security firm) who issue the tickets! Very sneaky!
Update (18 February 2016):
It seems Ms Scolaro misinformed me about HRM's plans to reconsider its communication strategy about timed signs. What meagre information was once available is now gone. The link is dead. When I search for information about signs on the HRM website, I am taken to the page about how to pay parking tickets, which is evidently the only information HRM is really concerned about getting to the public!
Update (May 2016)
Well, I definitely was misinformed. But to my surprise I have now received a reply to the query I sent in February asking for more information. Apparently the official policy is now to make NO information available. I appreciate the honesty, if nothing else. But why is HRM determined not to provide any information to the public on how their parking signs are to be interpreted and enforced?
My email in February:
I was surprised and concerned to see that the HRM website has taken down the meagre information previously available on the web about how your signs are (currently) to be interpreted. Rather than improve the information available to the public, HRM has evidently chosen to make things worse. This is curious, to say the least. Are there any plans to post up-to-date and accurate information? It appears that the only people given this information are the ones charged with giving out tickets, which hardly seems a respectful and fair way to treat HRM residents.
And here's the response:
We revisited this matter internally following feedback from a number of stakeholders. The decision has been to not place this information on our website. As stated previously, there is no written documentation regarding this matter available.
Regional Supervisor Field Operations