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Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Do parking enforcement officers lurk around waiting for parking meters to expire? I've been just a minute or two late and arrived to see a ticket under my wiper. Isn't there a grace period, or do they write tickets the second the timer hits zero? – Georgia, Toronto

How long can you have a petered parking meter before you get a ticket?

"There's now a 10-minute exemption in the bylaw," said Toronto Police Parking Enforcement Staff Sgt. Nicole Lee. "So we won't write you a ticket until ten minutes after the time on your Pay and Display receipt."

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The new policy clears up a confusing system. Before that, police had a five-minute grace period – but the city would throw out tickets written within ten minutes of the expiry time.

The ten minute exemption applies to the city's 2600 Pay and Display machines, which cover about 95 per cent of the city's paid parking spaces. It won't work for the 1,200 or so coin-operated metres.

"With the meters, there's no way to tell how long they've been expired," Lee said. "So if the officer sees zero, they'll write a ticket."

Not all meters are made equal. In Vancouver, most parking meters have a two minute grace period, the city says.

"Most meters have a flashing red light to indicate the grace period," the city said in an email statement. "It is generally practised that if a parking enforcement officer sees the countdown sign they will keep on walking."

Grace under fire?

I did some some accidental research on this when I let the meter expire in Vancouver this week. I got to my car and saw that the officer had just walked past my car. Ready to plead my case, I caught up with her.

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"It's been less than two minutes, I'd never write a ticket for that," said the officer, who I'll call Officer Friendly since she asked not to be named. "Some people might, but I wouldn't, and that's probably why I almost never get called into court."

She explained that she's on a patrol route. If she'd passed my car after those two minutes were over, she wouldn't have known how long my car had been there.

What if the grace period had expired but I'd arrived just as she was writing the ticket?

"I'd stop writing it," Friendly said. "But if you'd started swearing at me like some people do, then you'd get the ticket for sure. That wouldn't work at your job or anywhere else, so why would it work with me?"

And if you walked up to an officer writing you a parking ticket in Toronto? Could you ask them nicely to throw out the ticket and let you drive away?

"Once they've started the ticket and inputed it into the system, there's very little they can do," said Lee. "They can put in a request to withdraw the ticket, but the ticket will still print."

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"I hope you get cancer"

Lee said officers don't have time to lurk and wait for meters to expire.

"Maybe it feels that way, but, no, they have to cover a specific area," Lee said. "The goal is vehicle turnover so other people have a chance to park."

Friendly says she's just doing her job, she's not out to get anybody.

"I had someone roll down their window and yell out 'I hope you get cancer," she says.

If you have questions for Jason Tchir about driving or car maintenance, please write to globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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