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Curbside justice nets $80 million 

Three courier companies set pace with 34,000 parking tickets last year — one every four minutes

Toronto Star, June 17, 2007

By Andrew Chung

You have to watch closely for it, but every day a timeless cat-and-mouse game unfolds on the streets of Toronto, one in which the mice never learn their lesson, and the cats always bring in a big prize.

In this case, the mice are the hundreds of courier drivers who scurry around the downtown core every day in their trucks and vans, getting and delivering precious packages. The cats: the parking police.

Courier companies are Toronto's biggest parking violators. Of the top five ticket recipients in 2006, three were international couriers: Federal Express, United Parcel Service and Purolator.

The list, according to city records, was rounded out with two car rental companies, but those violations were committed by individual renters.

In 2006, the three couriers together compiled 33,716 tickets, worth approximately $1.5 million. That's about 130 tickets every workday, or roughly one ticket every four minutes during business hours.

But for the couriers, the fines are simply an unavoidable cost of doing business. They have no intention of parking legally. The city has no intention of halting the ticketing.

On a recent bright morning around Yonge and Bloor Sts., there were two or three couriers parked on every block. Like Purolator's Ed Rushford. When asked about the parking police, he sets down his parcels and blinks through black-rimmed glasses. He disconcertingly resembles an angry Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

"I've had more tickets in the last year and a half around here," seethes the 54-year-old, "than I have in the last 29 years."

He says police now "wallpaper" courier vans with tickets. "It makes us look bad, those things flapping on the windshield. We're just trying to make a living."

As he talks, two parking officers swish by on bicycles going in the other direction. "It's not about parking," he continues. "It's about revenue generation."

And the city does makes big cash on parking violations, about $80 million every year.

The couriers all know the parking police who work their neighbourhoods. They know the easy-going ones, the mean ones. They text message each other as to the whereabouts of the particularly overzealous cops.

Conversations between drivers and parking cops are often strangely amicable, but sometimes there's tension. Rushford relates how, a few days prior, he was approaching the end of his shift and had four tickets already.

One young officer, whom he talks to regularly, walked by and didn't ticket. When Rushford returned, however, a fresh, yellow violation glared out from under his wiper. He confronted the officer, who, according to Rushford, said he was "below his quota" for the day.

One Toronto officer, who asked not to be named, said there isn't an explicit quota, but officers are expected to write 65 tickets each a day.

"It's an uneasy relationship," Rushford explains. "It's like the bird that cleans the crocodile's teeth."

He means that sometimes, the croc will let you go. Sometimes he'll bite.

"With the amount we pay," echoes UPS courier Corey Ferrara, 27, "this country should be out of debt."

Of course, the drivers don't themselves pay. They bring the tickets back and hand them over to the company to look after.

Drivers say they're not asked to find legitimate places to park. "The company would lose more money if we had to wait to find parking," says one FedEx driver who asked not to be named. "The packages would be late."

Of the companies, only FedEx responded to questions, but wouldn't discuss specifics. "We try to balance meeting the needs of our customers, their reliable, on-time deliveries, with the traffic restrictions in each city," says spokesperson Karen Cooper. "But in very congested cities this is often difficult."

The companies, says Anthony Fabrizi, manager of the city's parking operations, "treat tickets as well as anything else related to driving around as a cost of doing business in Toronto."

In 2002, he says, the city adopted a "zero tolerance" policy between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. toward parking on main arteries. This meant no mercy for couriers.

In Toronto, the courier companies still come in each week with their hundreds of tickets, Fabrizi says, "and literally flip through each ticket" with staff, to see if there are any errors.

That's probably by necessity. Though a big business expense, the fines aren't tax-deductible.

The fine points

2.8 million - Total number of tickets issued each year in Toronto

1.9 million - Number issued to drivers living in the 905 (that's 62 per cent of all tickets)

78,000 - Number issued to people out-of-province

33,716 - Number issued to Fedex, UPS, and Purolator

$80 million - Annual revenues from parking tickets

$1.5 million - Revenue from the three most-ticketed companies

$30 - Average fine

82 per cent - Proportion of tickets the city actually collects on (others are cancelled or lost in court)

$34,000 - The amount one Toronto woman owes, giving her the dubious distinction of the city's worst individual parking violator

Letters to the editor:

June 19, 2007

Why is it that whenever fines are levied, the scofflaws involved whine about being victims of a cash grab? In the case of unlawful parking, the issue is compounded by the fact that many motorists view leaving their vehicles wherever they choose as a victimless crime. But anyone caught in gridlock knows the effect an abandoned vehicle has on traffic flow in the downtown.

The courier drivers who were interviewed make it sound as though their livelihood depends on inconveniencing the rest of the population in this manner, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Increase the fines for these infractions to the point where it is unprofitable for delivery companies to operate in such a self-serving manner. The large courier firms would then be forced to use the more sustainable delivery methods that local messenger firms have relied on for more than a century.

Wayne Scott, Toronto

There are hundreds of couriers in Toronto working for smaller companies and 99 per cent of them are brokers – i.e., they provide their own vehicle and pay all of their expenses, including tickets.

As a retired courier, I know that going downtown with the potential to make $200, and at the end of the day only making $120 because of two $40 parking tickets, is very frustrating. The city allots space for taxis to sit but makes no provision for couriers. Apart from a few office towers with underground parking, the rest of the time you have to run the gauntlet with parking control.

It is time the city issued permits to couriers for limited-time parking. I'm sure most couriers would gladly pay $200 for a yearly permit, but since that is only the equivalent of five tickets, why would the city give couriers permission to park when they can make millions by retaining the status quo?

So the silly game of hide-and-seek goes on and who really pays for all of those tickets? The customer, of course, because the cost is built into the courier charge.

David Lee, Mississauga

I am an unpaid volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We are building 19 non-profit homes for low-income families at 4200 Kingston Rd. Because there is no on-site parking available, we legally park one block away on a couple of residential streets. However, we exceed the three-hour limit for on-street parking and therefore receive parking tickets, which must be paid out of our own pockets. (Did I mention that we are unpaid volunteers?)

When we commenced this project in January, Habitat tried, unsuccessfully, to receive consideration from the parking authority. Local Councillor Paul Ainslie, a volunteer at this site, has recently pleaded our case to the Toronto police parking enforcement unit, but, we haven't heard anything further.

Where is compassion and common sense?

Paul Epton, Toronto

The city should step up its enforcement of illegally parked couriers a notch. During rush hour, instead of just issuing a $60 parking ticket, perhaps the city should now tow the trucks away. The cost of doing business will suddenly skyrocket for them. Maybe then they will start using the parking facilities provided at many buildings.

Ed Berlot, Toronto

Countless times I've been forced to cycle around these large courier trucks, forcing me into the path of an unsuspecting motorist. Traffic is stalled and the diversion is dangerous. They aren't just parking illegally; these courier trucks are obstructing multiple lanes of traffic. If the city wants to stop congestion and improve the safety of its motorists and cyclists, greater action must be taken immediately.

Andrew Pifko, Toronto

Courier drivers need to get out more often
June 21, 2007

It's no surprise that three of the worst parking offenders are international courier companies. They park their trucks in front of office towers as pseudo-satellite offices with free billboard advertising. Their drivers often spend a large amount of time in each tower delivering on foot, while their trucks block traffic, create gridlock and endanger other road users.

This practice is completely unnecessary. Unlike the local same-day and emergency courier services, the large courier companies refuse to use bicycle or foot couriers, who could complete the jobs much faster without causing environmental damage or gridlock.

If the city were serious about its traffic and environmental problems, it would tow the trucks rather than just ticket them. This would force these companies to utilize more efficient and environmentally friendly methods for deliveries.

The Toronto Bike Messenger Association has proposed a solution to the city's transportation and parking woes through the application of a "green zone" for deliveries in the downtown. This zone would make it easier for courier companies to choose active transportation delivery methods where appropriate.

Joe Hendry, Toronto Bike Messenger Association, Toronto




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