Under the new system, motorists can pay tickets or launch disputes online and upload photos
Wendy Walberg, Practice Lead, Legal Services, Kalli Chapman, Director, Prosecutions Section
Better customer service. Better compliance. Cheaper operating costs. More detailed information available. It’s rare for initiatives to have no down sides at all, but that’s exactly what can be said about the City of Toronto’s efforts to put its parking ticket payment system online.
The old way of disputing parking tickets was time-intensive and cumbersome. Motorists had to request trials and appear in person before a justice of the peace to dispute the charges. Offices were only open during regular working business hours, making it difficult for those who couldn’t take time off work to ask questions of city employees or gather additional information about the process. The courts were clogged as disputed tickets rose to 10.6 per cent in 2015 from three per cent in 2004. Wait times to get a disputed ticket situation resolved could take up to 18 months. The system just wasn’t working, and the city had to withdraw more than 800,000 tickets in September 2015. A new solution had to be found, and it was up to the legal services division to take on that task.
With the issues it was having, the city enacted By-Law No. 799-2017, which created an administrative penalty system for parking, standing and stopping violations. Given that the city now had the means to manage enforcement, it seemed time to take a different approach and modernize the way tickets were handled.
“We wanted to see if we could blow that [old] model up and see if we could improve things for the public,” says Kalli Chapman, director of prosecution.
“We wanted to make it more accessible to the public and to leverage technology, because nowadays, most people run most of their lives off of a cellphone or off their laptop or computer. We felt that it was necessary to open up our minds to other opportunities to better serve the public, and allow them to openly dispute their matters with the city in terms of parking violations.”
Under the new system, in-person options aren’t taken away, but motorists can pay their tickets online or launch disputes. In order to make their cases, drivers can upload photos and other materials. A screening officer can evaluate the dispute and cancel, confirm or vary the penalty, but the officer’s decision can be reviewed by a hearing officer who is a member of an independent adjudicative body known as the Administrative Penalty Tribunal. Failure to pay a fine triggers a plate denial at the Ontario
Ministry of Transportation, preventing motorists from renewing their licence plates. If the city already has a driver’s email address (from previous interactions), the ticket can even be served through email, a solution for those situations where motorists drive away before the parking enforcement officer can finish writing and issuing the ticket. Additionally, parking enforcement officers received new handheld computers that can take pictures of the violation and geotag the location where it occurred.
As part of the project, which was completed in 2018, the legal operations team wrote a new conflict of interest policy, developed a code of conduct for members of the adjudicative bodies, worked to map and develop the business processes and collaborated with the IT department. City solicitor Wendy Walberg says a number of the city’s legal experts assisted with the work.
“There was a lot of legal advice provided from various people as well. We certainly had our prosecution's unit involved. There were also lawyers from other groups who provided advice: our transportation lawyer, our information privacy lawyer. There are a lot of administrative law concepts also that come into play here and people had to look at that, as well as good governance issues.”
Beyond the legal challenges, the team working on the project needed to consider IT issues, an experience that was new to the lawyers involved. Chapman explains, for example, that they needed to figure out how to “open up our portals to not only allow us to send out information but to allow the public to send us information that we weren't in control of. So that was one significant IT issue that we had to work on with our IT people. It required a commitment both from us and from them to find a solution.”
The experience turned out to be a positive one and she hopes to repeat it.
“This is the first project of significance that we have worked on with IT. But it has opened our eyes to various opportunities. And we're currently working on additional projects.”
It is easy to say the APS has been a measurable success. In its first year of operations, it was responsible for more than $2.5 million in gross operating budget savings. In total, 11.3 per cent of motorists issued a ticket requested online screening reviews compared with 4.1 per cent requesting in-person reviews. Chapman says those numbers are a bit higher than under the former court system, but that’s a good thing.
“I attribute that to the barriers being removed for people dealing with their disputes. I look at that as a success — that more people, if they have an issue, are able to access the system and put that dispute forward to the city."
It has also been a boost for the morale of the lawyers involved in creating APS and the people who are administering it.
“People might initially be reluctant to change because nobody really knows what it means for them, but people really enjoy being part of a successful project like this, and people have embraced the change. The people who work in this unit — our administrative penalty unit — are very happy. That’s very important to me and I know it’s very important to Chapman.
“Also, any project like this is about teamwork: teamwork to get it rolling, teamwork to sell it and there was a tremendous amount of teamwork within the legal services division to get it going and get it implemented,” say Walberg.
According to Chapman, APS has also garnered the attention of people in other cities who are interested in coming to see the system and learning from Toronto’s example. That attention marks the project a success in her books, especially since many of those same people initially expressed doubts that a system like this would even work.