National Post (Latest Edition)
THE METER RUNNING ON TICKET COSTS
The City of Toronto moved yesterday to clear up a backlog of more than a quartermillion parking tickets. But if you think the move will net the cash-starved city any additional revenue, guess again.
For the past couple of years, it’s been easy to make parking tickets disappear. A while ago I got an evil yellow flapper under my windshield wiper. I schelpped down to Metro Hall, 55 John St., and asked for a court date. The attendant said, “You may or may not hear from us.” I haven’t heard from them.
In the past two years, motorists have filed 250,000 requests to contest such $30 parking tickets, but only 4,300 have received trial dates. Yesterday, I looked up Barry Randell, Toronto’s director of court services, at his office on University Avenue to find out what was going on.
Toronto’s 24 courtrooms — eight at Old City Hall, nine at 1530 Markham Rd., and seven at 2700 Eglinton Ave. W. — simply don’t have room to process those trials, Mr. Randell said.
“When you’re in the emergency department and you have a broken arm, you will get priority over someone with a sprained ankle,” he explained.
Even those with more serious offences (the ones that actually make it to trial) are benefiting from the court backlog. Yesterday, I popped into a traffic court on the third floor at Old City Hall and watched the justice of the peace, his worship Angelo Cremisio, withdraw or stay case upon case. In several cases, the police officer who laid the charge has since resigned; in others, the judge accepted a Charter of Rights argument of “unreasonable delay” between the charge and the court date. He deemed 13 months’ wait unreasonable.
“I had six Charter arguments today and won them all, and eight yesterday,” said Frank Alfano, a paralegal with OTT Legal. His firm charges about $350 to file a Charter application to get someone off on a speeding ticket, and wins 90% of the time, he said. “The problem is the courts are backlogged, so they can’t get the cases to trial sooner.”
Change is coming, though. Yesterday, Toronto’s government management committee voted to spend about $3.7-million next year to open four new courtrooms at 481 University Ave. The costs include rent, renovations and hiring four more court clerks and city prosecutors. City council must still approve the plan.
Alas, though, it appears that clearing up the ticket backlog won’t net the city any cash. Court services expects to generate $4.4-million from the new University Avenue courts. That looks like a net earning of about $700,000, but Mr. Randell said that’s not quite so.
“Last year, the city ended up with about $6-million in net fine revenue,” he said. “Do they capture all the costs? Probably not. You’ve got officers writing the tickets.” In short, someone also has to pay the wages of the 304 parking enforcement officers.
Over time, the city may see other benefits as more people start getting court dates on traffic tickets and conclude that it’s easier to just mail in a cheque for the $30. But given the backlog, that may take awhile.
“It’s sorta like peeing in the ocean and trying to fill it up,” Mr. Alfano said. “What they need to do is just take the hit and declare an amnesty.” I’m not objecting to that idea.
Longer term, said Mr. Randell of court services, the city is looking at creative new approaches to allow some motorists to vanquish parking tickets without a trial.
“Supposing you leave your disabled vehicle to find a tow truck and you come back and find a ticket,” he said. “You have a repair bill, scan it, send it in electronically. Someone reviews it, and if it fits within the grounds of the policy, then the ticket will be cancelled.”
Hey, that sounds better than hiring more prosecutors.