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It's when they lie in wait.

If there is a single, recurring cause of parking angst, it's the gotcha ticket.

Candy Tupper, of Toronto, gesturing to her shoulder, described being tagged in a municipal parking lot, after a snow storm: "I made sure [the parking officer] saw me heading to the machine. Sometimes they'll get you even in that delay. I got my ticket, made a big show of putting it on my dash, and went across the road to the store. When I came out, there was a ticket for $181 under my wiper. A fire hydrant was buried under all that snow. They had dug out the area around it on the storefront side, but not the street side. I was gone 10 minutes, and he [had] watched me park. He knew. I wonder how many people he did that to, that night."

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Parking enforcement officers, who delivered the bulk of nearly 2.8 million parking tickets issued last year, are unlikely to cut you any slack. Their job is to issue parking tickets; that is their goal. For a city that puts $80 million in its coffers from passive ticketing, it's a honey pot too sweet to give up. But that abrasion, that ill will, surfaces when people like Tupper could simply have been told, "Ma'am, you can't park there."

Dave, a college student, admits he pulled up outside the coffee shop on the Danforth in a marked no-parking area. But in two minutes – "maybe not even that" – his car was gone. Towed. "I can see a ticket, but a tow? How fast can that happen? They had to be right there."

The "gotcha" rankles because it goes against a reasonable person's natural inclination.

People will obey laws that make sense to them. If people voluntarily comply by paying tickets, it saves time and money by removing a burden from the groaning legal system.

People can understand being ticketed when they've blown past their metered time; the majority of tickets in the city of Toronto are paid without a fight. In traffic court, you hear the tales of confusing or missing signs, street zones changing at midnight, and unsynchronized clocks. Together with tickets that city staff cancel, out-of-province-plate tickets and drive-aways, nearly one in four parking tickets is cancelled.

Tom R. Tyler, a professor of both law and psychology at Yale University, says people simply want to be respected. "They would like to receive a level of punishment they feel they deserve. … If the judge treats them fairly by listening to their arguments and considering them, by being neutral, by stating good reasons for his or her decision, people will react positively to their experience, whether or not they receive a favourable outcome."

Al-Noor Wissanji, of ParkingTicketToronto.com, an agency that will fight a ticket on your behalf says, "If it's not dismissed, it's usually cut to one-quarter or half if the ticket was deserved, you plead guilty, explain any extenuating circumstances and they're quite reasonable."

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You can even get several types of tickets cancelled using the Internet, where clearer instructions were finally posted on the City of Toronto website earlier this year.

Reasonable. It's the perceived absence of discretion, of reason, on the initiating end of that ticket that causes friction. Pat Helferty, of Toronto, laughs. "I've sometimes had to park in front of my house to unload my trunk when there's no parking, but I have had yelling matches with a parking guy as I am literally moving stuff from my trunk to my front door for two minutes. On a side street. How is that reasonable? Where's that discretion?"

The one thing those ticketed I've quoted had in common? Nobody's story happened during rush hour. Making rush hour worse in a city as congested as Toronto is one thing nobody expecting a little leniency considers reasonable.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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