Opinion: Few signs of common sense in parking bylaws

First, let’s give credit where credit is due: The City of Ottawa deserves praise for its role in keeping parking rates in check in the heart of the city. 

It does so by charging reasonable rates for city-run parking lots and short-term on-street parking. This puts pressure on the private sector not to raise its parking rates too high.

However, the city does a poor job in applying a bylaw that restricts daytime on-street parking in Ottawa to a maximum of three hours any day of the year – weekends and public holidays included.

This three-hour limit between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week applies regardless of whether there are signs on the street informing motorists of this parking restriction.

How are Ottawa visitors supposed to know that they must not park in the same spot longer than three hours if there is no sign informing them of this limit?

I’ve lived here nearly 40 years, but assumed the three-hour limit did not apply on, say, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. I was vague on whether it applied on weekends.

Now I know – thanks to a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen by the paper’s consumer crusader, Hugh Adami. He recently recounted the story of a woman from southwestern Ontario who got two $60 tickets for parking for more than three hours on a quiet residential Ottawa street near where she was staying.

She complained to City Hall and got a runaround. According to the Citizen, one unsympathetic city employee told her: “When you go visit somebody, don’t you ask about the rules of the house, like whether you should take off your shoes?”

Nice. Eventually, the woman had her fine reduced, but it left a nasty taste in her mouth, as it does in mine.

Don’t we want people to visit our city? Is this how we treat them? City politicians should be embarrassed and ashamed.

Here’s a suggestion: why doesn’t the city erect prominent signs at every highway entrance to  Ottawa informing motorists not to park their car on the street for longer than three hours, even on Christmas Day?

Here’s another suggestion: why doesn’t the city do a better job of informing visitors and residents alike of this three-hour parking limit?

After the Citizen article appeared, a reader complained in a letter to the editor that the bylaw was “secretive and unfair.” It’s certainly secretive, but it’s not unfair.

Some city residents pay more than $700 a year for a permit that allows them to park on the street outside their home for as long as they wish. Mostly they live in older homes in or near downtown, where there is little or no off-street parking. Naturally they complain when motorists park outside their home for more than three hours without a permit.

One thing wrong with the bylaw is how unevenly it appears to be applied. There is no need for this bylaw on quiet residential streets.

If a street is not sufficiently busy to post a sign restricting parking to three hours, why not exempt this street from the bylaw?

Mostly this is a public-relations issue. City hall has an obligation to ensure the public is made aware of the rules.

 

SOME OF OTTAWA’S BEST PARKING DEALS:

Underground parking at World Exchange Plaza, Metcalfe and Albert streets, is free for unlimited periods on weekends.

Free parking for up to three hours any day of the week is available on some residential streets within walking distance of downtown. But read parking signs carefully.

Lots of stores offer free parking for shoppers at the new Lansdowne Park. Among the most generous is Whole Foods, which recently lowered its spending minimum to $10 for 90 minutes of free parking. That’s a saving of $4.50, since the regular parking rate is $1.50 for 30 minutes.

Indoor parking at City Hall costs a maximum of $2 on weekends, holidays and evenings.

 

… AND TWO OF THE WORST:

Daytime parking on weekdays is $6 an hour at the National Arts Centre and $5 an hour at World Exchange Plaza.

 

Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be contacted at news@obj.ca.