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The Globe and Mail

Toronto unveils steeper parking fines in bid to ease congestion

Toronto Police issued nearly 2.8 million parking tickets in 2009, the year before this photo was taken.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto is cracking down on drivers who stop illegally downtown in a bid to help keep the city's congested core flowing.

The city is more than doubling fines for some offences and bringing in a program to tow the vehicles of scofflaws, officials said on Tuesday. Fines will be fixed, meaning people can attempt to have a ticket voided in court, but will not be able to have the penalty reduced.

"We're going to be indiscriminate about this … we're focusing on anything with four wheels," public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong said on Tuesday. "These parking regulations will help our city get moving again."

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The new system is complicated, with some penalties remaining the same and others changing.

The fine for parking in places designated as no stopping any time will remain at $60. But starting on Thursday morning, breaking the rules on streets with time-specific restrictions will cost $150 during rush hour and $60 outside the peak period.

Over the coming months, time-based parking restrictions on key downtown roads will be extended. And three-time offenders who have not paid their fines and are not fighting them in court will be towed on the fourth offence.

Congestion is increasingly seen in Toronto as holding back the economy and diminishing quality of life. According to the Toronto Region Board of Trade, traffic problems cost the area $6-billion annually.

Before the release of the new rules, Mayor Rob Ford denounced them and said drivers could be blindsided when their cars are impounded.

"Sometimes, if I get a parking ticket, I'll shelve it somewhere. I don't know if I have outstanding parking tickets, a lot of people don't. And then you find out your car's towed," he told reporters on Monday, calling the changes a "cash grab."

Transportation Services general manager Stephen Buckley said on Tuesday that compliance is expected to increase under the new rules, making the approach revenue neutral.

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Mr. Minnan-Wong had no sympathy for companies that argue they have to make deliveries during rush hour, suggesting they adapt their business model. "They … are free-riding at the expense of the rest of the city," he said.

Courier boss Frank E. D'Angelo, owner of The Messengers International, said that the new rules were "good and bad." He was pleased with the effort to keep traffic moving on the narrow old streets of the downtown and said that city efforts to create courier zones will help.

"If it was up to me, there wouldn't be any parking allowed on the major streets in downtown Toronto, no parking at all," Mr. D'Angelo said, adding that his firm had 20 to 25 vehicles operating in the city. The steep fines will hurt, he added, but will motivate his drivers not to break the law.

But Jay Fleishman, founder of the court booking firm, was expecting a rush of people resisting the new penalties.

"People won't want to dish out $150 so fast and will set it to trial, hope their trial date never comes," he said by e-mail. "Coming back to 'no car' will also not be a pleasant feeling. People could have emergencies to deal with."

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