A tough new enforcement of downtown parking rules is being expanded even as evidence about the traffic-related impact of the crackdown remains elusive.
Mayor John Tory has made it one of his most public missions to ease congestion in Toronto, holding numerous traffic-related media events since taking office. The most visible sign of the new era has been the towing away of hundreds of vehicles that stopped illegally during rush hour.
On Monday, Mr. Tory announced that repeat scofflaws who use out-of-province plates to avoid having to pay parking tickets in Toronto will soon face being towed, as well.
The tougher approach comes as the mayor says people are telling him traffic is moving better since the crackdown began this month. "I think the anecdotal evidence is powerful," he said.
Police began stepping up enforcement of no-stopping policies on downtown arterial roads at the start of January. More than 950 vehicles have been towed away and nearly 6,000 tickets issued. Year-over-year figures have not been made available, though, making it hard to determine the significance of those totals.
It's also impossible without comparative data about traffic flow to judge the extent to which the removal of those vehicles has been having an impact on getting around the city.
"I will be looking to see if there are any measures that demonstrate that there has been … less congestion," said Councillor Janet Davis.
Fellow Councillor James Pasternak said that "perception is reality" and that he was hearing from people that traffic had been improved.
"The reality is that we're getting these traffic-cloggers off the road," he said. "When a program is so early and there's no measurability other than anecdotal, you rely on anecdotal. Over the long term, though, you have to track."
Mr. Tory said that he, too, is relying for now on public feedback to assess the program's value, promising more rigorous study to come.
"People tell me, day after day after day, that it has made a positive difference," he said. "We will be – as best we can given the technology and other measurement tools that are available – reporting on [the impact]. But I think you have to be fair to give us time."
A question to the city's Transportation Services department about how quickly comparative traffic-flow data could be gathered was not answered by the end of day.
As Mr. Tory announced the expanded crackdown Monday, he said the city writes more than 100,000 tickets each year to vehicles without Ontario plates. "The majority of those go unpaid," he said.
Until now, parking enforcement officers writing tickets on an out-of-province vehicle didn't know how many unpaid tickets it might have been issued. That information is being made available to them and, starting on Feb. 1, any such vehicle with at least three outstanding tickets faces being towed if stopped illegally on downtown roads during rush hour.
This won't change another problem, which is that, while the city can tow, it doesn't have the power to enforce tickets issued to vehicles with out-of-province plates. "Basically, we are owed a fortune," said Mr. Pasternak.
If passed at the provincial level, Bill 31 should make it easier for municipalities including Toronto to collect such monies, according to a spokesman for Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.
In a related issue, the city has seen a sharp drop in the number of motor-vehicle tickets issued by police. They wrote $35-million less in 2014 than the previous year, according to city figures. The union has insisted this is not a deliberate slowdown. The 2015 Toronto budget assumes a $20-million rise in tickets over the previous year.