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Parking tickets should be dealt with outside of court system: ombudsman

Toronto should save motorists a trip to court by setting up a separate system to solve parking-ticket disputes, the city's ombudsman says.

Fiona Crean is recommending that Canada's largest city follow the lead of Vancouver, Vaughan, Ont., and other municipalities by ditching its traditional parking-fine program in favour of an "administrative monetary penalty" process, which would let civilian adjudicators or tribunals settle ticket fights.

The switch is a "no-brainer," Ms. Crean said.

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"I think it will save money, I think it'll alleviate [the] frustration of citizens. It's a much quicker turnaround," she said.

Ms. Crean made the recommendation as part of a larger probe into how Toronto handles parking-ticket disputes.

After receiving "dozens and dozens" of complaints, the ombudsman's office investigated and found that "on balance, drivers are getting reasonable service, given that 2.8 million parking tickets are issued annually."

However, Ms. Crean said the city makes it much easier to pay a parking ticket than fight it, a shortcoming that should be corrected.

For instance, the investigation, released Thursday, found the city barely advertises its ticket cancellation guidelines, which allow drivers to beat a ticket without going to court.

Tickets can be cancelled almost automatically if a car owner can prove the meter was broken or that they were parked for a "religious observance," such as attending church.

"What's important is to let drivers and citizens know what all their options are, that's all I'm saying," Ms. Crean said.

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The city's website and the yellow parking slips that Toronto Police's parking enforcement unit slap on dashboards leave the impression that paying is the only option, the report found.

"Right now the parking ticket says option 1, option 2, pay it. That's the emphasis," Ms. Crean said. "Outside that black square, in smaller print is the option to not pay. I'm saying option 3 needs to be the same size as the first two. It's really simple."

The report includes some sobering figures on the backlog at Toronto's five parking-ticket courts.

Parking ticket cases heard in the first four months of this year stemmed from requests filed 13 to 19 months earlier; most drivers who asked for a trial last year are still awaiting a court date.

Ms. Crean hopes the city's move to a so-called fixed fine system in early 2013 will help reduce wait times at parking court.

The new policy prohibits justices of the peace from reducing fines at court – a change that is designed to prevent motorists from disputing tickets just to get the charge knocked down by a few bucks.

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The ombudsman is also encouraging council to adopt a special 30-minute parking permit for courier and delivery companies that would cut down on such companies clogging the courts with reams of disputed tickets.

But in the end, Ms. Crean argues the best option would be to take parking-ticket disputes out of the courts altogether.

The city's legal department is concerned that such a move could spark a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ombudsman suggested the city ask the provincial attorney-general to request a reference decision on the matter from the Court of Appeal.

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