Toronto, just three more minutes and I would have come away smiling. Grateful, even. Oh well, swing and a miss.
Let me explain. On a recent rainy Friday afternoon, a lunch meeting had me hunting for a parking spot on a tiny dead-end street. It's in the middle of a bunch of new condos, one of those little zigzag, topiary-dotted boulevards south of Lake Shore. My colleague and I didn't care where we parked, only that we could stay in the same general concrete neighbourhood.
Surveying the unbroken line of parked vehicles, we began searching for a parking garage. Before we'd gone three more car lengths, a spot miraculously opened up in front of the steps of the restaurant. It's admittedly a small thing, but I've lived long enough to appreciate that it's the small things that matter most.
We fired a bunch of dollar coins into the machine, tossed the ticket on to the dash and headed up the wide steps of the restaurant. I didn't give the car a further thought.
Did I deserve the yellow ticket flapping on the windshield when we returned to the car one hour and 55 minutes later? At first glance, sure I did. I stood clutching the burn notice, noting the time it had been deposited: 1:47 p.m. Couldn't argue that my machine-issued permit had expired at 1:40 p.m. I glanced at my phone, noting it was 1:48. Those Toronto parking people must have wings, because there was not a soul in sight.
I learned later that I could argue. Because humans and clocks are fallible, there is a 10-minute grace period built into many parking tickets. I like that word, grace. It denotes calm, an unruffling of the ruffled, a small bridge that unites the grey area between black and white, the difference between paying a $30 fine (and cussing in a not graceful way), or coming away with a thankful smile. It's the small things that matter most.
Accessing that grace means e-mailing or faxing the evidence: the ticket an official city machine dispensed to me displaying the expiry time of 1:40, and the official parking ticket displaying the highly offensive 1:47. You can double-check my math, but that tells me grace was not just on my side, she was standing on the hood of my car and yelling.
This is a far cry from the other method of receiving ticket gracing: standing in line at one of only four ticket counters in the city – your only choice if you don't have that pay-and-display receipt. But can't an officer standing right there see the same narrow band of time that I then e-mailed a clerk to review? If every savings helps, why use up so many resources?
I scoured the City of Toronto website almost hoping I'd find a reason that I was wrong, discover I wasn't worthy of grace. Prohibited time? Major artery? Rush hour? In the way of snow removal? No, no, no, no.
Turns out grace is inconvenient. Turns out grace, like "reasonable" and "discretion," falls under the category of words that can tumble on either side of the fence at any given moment.
I e-mailed the scanned evidence on a Sunday night. First thing Monday morning, I was notified that the ticket had been cancelled.
This was excellent service, but made me question even more why the ticket had been issued at all. I'm sure they count on most people just paying; whenever you hear someone say, "it's not the money, it's the principle," everyone else looks at their shoes knowing it's the money. But I had more than the principle on my side: I had grace.
Here's the thing, Toronto: if that ticket had been issued at 1:51, I would have been no happier to part with $30, but I only would have blamed myself. Thousands of cars go in and out of the city every day, and without law and order it would be a free-for-all of shredding trucks holding up major arteries at rush hour. Oh, wait.
I'm a rules girl, and I get it.
But if four minutes is the difference between "gotcha" and "I tried not to," which signal do you think will reassure your citizens you're not filling phantom quotas, and send visitors to your city off with a smile? This is not some imagined, undefined courtesy; you yourself, Toronto, extended the grace period from five minutes to 10 just last year. As with all rules and regulations, there are qualifiers and asterisks and exceptions (you can find them on the city's website), but, for most people, the basic concept is that the city is giving you a 10-minute buffer – one I hand back countless times when I leave long before my allotted time is up.
It's a small thing, but it's a nice thing.
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