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Update with a response from Impark

If I were to get a parking ticket from a private company and not the government, do I still have to pay it? – Oren, via Twitter

Those parking tickets from private companies aren't really tickets and the fines aren't really fines, parking companies say.

"We're a business, we're not a municipality," says Julian Jones, senior vice president, corporate development with Vancouver's Imperial Parking Corp, better known as Impark. "The whole objective of our enforcement program is to enforce our payment system — not to write parking tickets and generate revenue."

Impark says only a body authorized by statute (such as a municipality) can issue tickets or impose fines — Impark issues payment notices and collects fees, he says.

So what's the difference? Well, if you get a parking ticket issued by a municipality and don't pay it, it won't appear on your driving record or affect your insurance rates — but the province won't let you renew your vehicle's registration. You won't be able to get new stickers for your plates until you pay the ticket.

That restriction doesn't apply for notices from a private company, says the Ontario's Ministry of Transportation.

"If the private firm is not authorized by the municipality to issue tickets, an unpaid parking ticket, issued by the private firm will not result in plate denial," says the MTO in an email.

It gets a little tricky because some municipalities, like Toronto, allow private security firms and parking management companies to issue official city parking tickets.

So once you're sure it's a private notice, what happens if you don't pay it?

"If the debt owed to us is not paid, the matter will be referred to a collection agency," the FAQ says. "If your vehicle is again parked on one of our lots without a valid receipt or pass, it may be towed."

In some cities, like Calgary, you may be towed if you park there again without a ticket.

"In that case, we call the city, the city comes and gives you a city parking ticket and they tow you away," Jones says. "It depends on our agreement with the municipality."

The site says Impark can also sue for payment.

But you can call Impark and hope they'll lower your fee — or remove it entirely.

"We demonstrate a whole bunch of leniency — people can phone us and will experience customer service folks who are sympathetic to their issues," Jones says. "We want to retain that customer and get him to park with us again and again."

We asked Jones how much Impark collects in these late fees. He said the company doesn't release that information.

So why can they charge you in the first place? Because you agreed to their terms when you parked there, they say.

"The fees associated with violations literally all go to the cost of issuing that notice, the actual enforcement process," Jones says. "The fees we're charged by provinces to search people's licence plates are quite onerous — we're trying to cover those costs."

In 2011, an Ontario Superior Court judge discontinued a $55-million class action lawsuit against Impark. The lawsuit claimed that the nearly $70 fee then charged by Impark was higher than fines charged by municipalities and that it exceeded the maximum daily rate listed in parking lots.

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