Parking fines go unpaid in Penticton

Penticton bylaw officers have handed out more than $1 million worth of parking tickets over the past five years

Dena Swann faithfully feeds parking meters after catching a break from a bylaw officer a year ago. Not everyone has been so lucky

Dena Swann faithfully feeds parking meters after catching a break from a bylaw officer a year ago. Not everyone has been so lucky

Just over $1 million worth of parking tickets have been issued by Penticton bylaw officers in the past five years, but the city has only collected a third of that amount.

Between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 31, 2012, rule-breakers paid a total of $358,272 in fines on tickets worth $1,045,689, according to figures provided by the city. The fines go into general revenue.

About half the total face value of the tickets, $513,642, was written off in the form of discounts for early payment, which turns a $35 fine for parking in front of an expired meter into a $10 penalty if paid within 14 days.

Another $21,508 was cancelled after tickets were reversed, usually due to a meter malfunction, while another $2,280 was credited back to people who overpaid.

That still leaves $155,824 in outstanding fines that the city is virtually powerless to collect. About the only thing it can do is make life difficult for repeat offenders by towing vehicles or referring overdue tickets to a collection agency.

Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager, said if a vehicle with three outstanding tickets is cited for a fourth, a tow truck is also called. The vehicle owner then has to pay towing and storage fees to have the vehicle released, but not the tickets that prompted the hook.

“That’s something that the city is working towards,” Kunka said.

Dena Swann, a Naramata woman who visits Penticton often, was surprised to learn how much money drivers owe on unpaid tickets. She said it should give the city pause to reflect on whether it’s even worth it to keep up the fight.

“Does it really make sense to have paid parking? I guess that question would come up,” she said last week, after pulling into the metered parking in front of Penticton City Hall and promptly depositing 50 cents to keep her car safe while she ran errands.

Swann said she has faithfully paid the tolls since catching a break about a year ago from a bylaw officer who caught her with a freshly expired meter.

“She just said, ‘Oh, it looks like you kind of forgot,’” Swann recalled.  “And she said, ‘OK, we’ll just let it go this time.’”

That bit of charity caught Swann by surprise, “so I took it as a gift and chose to pay from that point forward.”

Kunka said bylaw officers are encouraged to have a heart when it’s a close call or if extenuating circumstances, like a medical emergency, are to blame for a parking violation.

“There has to be room for common sense and that’s what we try to do,” he said. “But there’s also regulation and rules that if they get bent too often it’s hard to keep a fair and even line for everyone.”

Parking offences and fines have been trending upward since 2008, when 5,087 tickets were issued that netted the city $58,403. By 2011, the volume of tickets increased to 6,843 and payments totalled $82,100. Through the first eight months of 2012, there were 5,478 tickets issued and $60,000 in fines collected.

Kunka said both enforcement staffing and fine amounts have remained relatively stable over that time, so he was at a loss to explain the rising numbers. He said, though, that it’s a function of how much time bylaw officers spend on traffic patrol, rather than investigating other complaints like property offences.