Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Vancouver to crack down on parking tickets

with 10 comments

CBC News report that reminds me, once again, that life simply keeps on repeating itself. Some of you may be familiar with this part of my history: I have probably written about it here before too. But this issue keeps cropping up – and has been resolved elsewhere. And ought probably not to be an issue here. One of the things that can happen here is that your licence plate sticker can be withheld at renewal time if you have outstanding parking tickets. So there must be something I am not understanding.

Councillor Geoff Meggs says the city is owed around $8 million in uncollected fines because so many tickets are tied up in court, where the wait can be as long as 2½ years.

We had the same problem in London in the mid 1980s. In fact, the problem got so bad that people realized that they did not have to pay their parking tickets – because the courts were so bunged up that no penalty was actually going to happen. Indeed, it seems to me to be entirely likely that by the time a parking ticket does come to court either the officer’s memory can be challenged (“Do you really recall every ticket you issued over two years ago?”) or the case gets tossed due to unreasonable delay. Or, as has happened to me when I really, really wanted to challenge a parking ticket I knew was illegal, the officer simply fails to appear.

Over 10 percent of parking violators account for nearly 40 percent of all fines, according to city staff.

Actually I thought the rule for this kind of thing was the old 80/20 rule. The point being that it is the minority who are “scofflaws” who threaten to bring down the system when their numbers move over that line. The City of Denver came up with the solution first – hence the name “the Denver boot” or wheel-clamp. When a vehicle had more than ten unpaid parking tickets outstanding an enforcement officer would clamp it to render it immovable until the fines were paid. The system then relied on developments in IT which now would look humorous.   These days something like an iPad – or even an iPhone would make the whole thing very slick indeed.

We (the UK Department of Transport) wanted to try this out in Central London. The old GLC had been abolished and the civil servants were keen to show how effective they could be. Trouble was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Nicholas Ridley, was none too keen on the data collection aspect. “We will get hammered by the civil liberties crowd.” So we tried the “Yes, Minister” trick of suggesting something else so extreme we thought he would reluctantly agree to our original proposal as preferable. “We can’t clamp someone just for one offence, like overstaying a meter, Minister.”

“Why not?”

So that’s what we did. In fact what we clamped was any offence – because as soon as the clamping team’s van appeared all the offenders scarpered sharpish. We even had to persuade the unclampers not to be too efficient, in order to maximize the deterrent  effect of the clamped car. Only Lamborghinis were exempt: we could never get a clamp to fit on them. Parking enforcement in Central London was transformed very speedily.

Now all I am suggesting here is what old Nick would not allow us to do. The licence plate number is simply entered into a machine now to issue a ticket. That machine can either have a memory chip with the current top offenders licence plate numbers in it – or it can look up a web page to check if this vehicle has more than ten tickets issued already. If yes it not only gets the ticket, it gets clamped too.

Of course drivers will hate it. That is because they have been caught – finally. There will be all kinds of noise and complaints – just as there were with photo radar for speeders. We should never have caved to that pressure, nor should we now.

And since this government thinks that it is worth spending millions to try and catch fare evaders on SkyTrain, they really have no excuse for not taking action against scofflaws who park illegally and seem to be getting way with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Posted in parking

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. I saw an article the other day that Vancouver will not follow Seattle in implementing the boot:–no-boot-for-vancouver


    November 4, 2010 at 4:51 pm

  2. Should we call it the “Vancouver paradox”? no boot on cars, no pedestrian streets, no rapid transit in wealthy areas, parking meters by each parking spot (instead of one per block, allowing more cars per block), loud bitching about dedicated bike lanes, cars rarely signaling when they change lanes..
    all things that are common place in so many other towns…

    Red frog

    November 4, 2010 at 9:39 pm

  3. It seems to me the biggest problem is all the people who dispute a ticket hoping it will get thrown out for whatever reason. So people don’t pay until their court case comes up.

    One solution to combat that would be that if someone disputes a ticket and they are found to be guilty and forced to pay it. Then the amount on the ticket should jump by 5 times. So you get a parking ticket for $30 and loose the dispute you know owe $150.

    I would even apply this to speeding tickets and other ticket able offences.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 5, 2010 at 1:24 am

  4. I wonder how much money would city lose if everybody for a day decided to leave a car at home and not drive or thus park anywhere.

    Dejan K

    November 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

  5. @ Dejan K.

    the answer is around $100,000

    …but consider how much more efficient could be transit if “everybody decided to leave a car at home…” :it could be similar to the Olympic period isn’it?

    At this time Transit was breaking even or so…

    Today, like everyday, it has cost ~$2,000,000 of tax payer dollar to keep the bus on the road…

    …and a significant share is lost at subsidizing buses idling in congestion….because people drive to a parking space, which could have been part of a bus lane otherwise.

    Add to that the traffic accident …

    You will see quickly that parking costs to the society far more than the $100,000 change Vancouver receive daily for it… and that is the reason why we pay so much taxes.


    November 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm

  6. It would be interesting to see what would be the impact if all the cars magically disappeared one day and you still had to move all these people around.

    a) How much would transit have to expand and how much would that cost
    b) What would be the impact of loss of revenue from gas tax, parking, insurance, etc
    c) What would be the net benefits in terms of money saved on road construction and maintenance (this ons is tricky as you would still need some roads for trucks, buses, cycles, but you could easily get rid of some neighborhood streets and make them into pedestrian paths, etc)
    d) What would be the net benefit to society from less pollution, less oil drilling, fewer car accidents, less obesity, etc

    Has anybody done any study or paper on this subject?

    Dejan K

    November 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  7. In Bordeaux (France) the first Sunday of each month since 1998 is “Dimanche sans voitures”–Sunday without cars–a 50 hectares area of downtown Bordeaux (100 streets and squares) is off-limits to cars during the day–from 10am to 6pm (fall & winter)7 pm the rest of the year.

    The impact is hard to gauge as everyday of the year a smaller area than the one above yet quire important size wise in the heart of downtown has major shopping streets that are car-free during the day while smaller streets (physically and commercially)have restricted access for locals living there–and then for a limited time, like 20 minutes every few hours plus all night long–posts across the streets block car access unless one has a smart card to lower them.

    Unfortunately I can’t find a link recognizable by Google about that mostly pedestrian area..if you read French open and click at the top on “cadre de vie” then in the drop down menu click on “circuler, stationer” and in that page click on “secteur protege des voitures” and in the second paragraph click on “localisation des voies pietonnes”

    Apparently quite a few suburbanites working or shopping downtown leave their car in a Park & Ride by a LRT suburban station as:
    1-the car is in a supervised locked and secure area.
    2-P&R parking cost 3 Euros a day (free if one has a weekly/ monthly pass) AND the driver and the passengers each get a return ticket good from the time the car is parked until the transit system stops.

    Obviously Bordeaux isn’t the only French city to do this (both car-free days and easy parking by transit stations)

    Unfortunately accurate info is hard to get as the internet sites of the tourist bureaus of many French towns don’t always think about mentioning the town’s pedestrian streets, likely because anyone born in France after the late 1970s grew up with pedestrian streets in their town.

    Another reason why people in Europe, Japan etc. are willing to leave a car at “home” is that many of the older streets/ houses were built in days when no one had cars. When people in these areas started buying cars from the 1950s on they often had to rent a parking in another neighbourhood..This is still often the case.

    In Bordeaux families living in buildings without a parking can have a reserved low-cost parking spot in a parking garage “in the neigbourhood” i.e.several blocks away at best. In a Japanese town I know well families living on a couple of blocks on a street own in common a parking lot a few blocks away where they stack their cars in parking devices 2 or 3 storeys high.

    Red frog

    November 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm

  8. One solution to combat that would be that if someone disputes a ticket and they are found to be guilty and forced to pay it. Then the amount on the ticket should jump by 5 times. So you get a parking ticket for $30 and loose the dispute you know owe $150.

    They should do that for all criminal offences!


    November 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

  9. No – that would offend the basic principle of the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. As it stands now if you know you are innocent you already have to pay a great deal more – either in cash to “my learned friends” or time and effort – and many people plead guilty to all kinds of things they didn’t do as a way of avoiding the risk of stiffer penalties.

    “The law courts are open to everyone – just like the Ritz Hotel”

    Stephen Rees

    November 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm

  10. @Stephen

    You do have a point in regards to being innocent until proven guilty. I was trying to think of a way of stopping those people who will dispute every ticket even though they know they are guilty. They sometimes win because of some technicality. Which just puts more pressure on the court system than is really needed.

    Paul C, Vancouver

    November 10, 2010 at 1:05 am

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