Did you get a parking ticket in December? It might not cost as much as you think

The cost of a Hamilton man's parking ticket was dropped because he didn't receive a courtesy notice over the holidays. And the city says it's impossible to know how many other people are in the same situation.

'It looks like they're only fixing things if people complain,' says Peter Martin

The cost of a Hamilton man's parking ticket was dropped because he didn't receive a courtesy notice over the holidays. And the city says it's impossible to know how many other people might be in the same situation. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A Hamilton man says he was blindsided by a parking ticket that more than doubled in cost before he even knew he had it.

The price tag on Peter Martin's December ticket was eventually dropped from $87 back down to $35 because he didn't receive a courtesy notice during the holidays.

But now he's left wondering how many other people unwittingly found themselves in the same situation and paid the higher amount, never knowing they could have also caught a break. And a city spokesperson has acknowledged it's impossible to know.

Martin's mission to understand why he was being charged so much began when he received an official-looking notice warning of an impending licence denial unless he paid up.

The letter looked legitimate: it included his address, licence plate number and the city's logo. But it was asking him to fork over $87 for a parking ticket issued on Locke Street he never even knew he had.

Martin said his wife had visited shops on Locke several times in the lead up to Christmas, but that parking was supposed to be free. Neither he nor his wife ever noticed a ticket on their windshield.

Confused, he called the city to make sure the ticket was real and to ask why he had never been notified about it.

He spoke with a "snippy" woman who insisted it was and told him if he wanted any for any documentation proving his vehicle had been parked illegally he'd have to email parking enforcement directly.

What followed was a back and forth with a City of Hamilton screening officer who sent along pictures of Martin's car along with an expired meter.

But it wasn't all bad news.

"I have put the fine back to the original amount of $35 as first notices were not sent due to a system error in late December," the officer wrote.

Martin now has until March 1 to pay his fine or appeal it.

City denies system error

He says he has no issue with paying the ticket. Still, he's left with questions, including how many other people who were never notified because of the same error, simply assumed they'd forgotten the ticket and paid an inflated fine?

"It looks like they're only fixing things if people complain," he said.

In a statement to CBC, James Buffet, manager of parking enforcement, said the screening officer gave Martin wrong information about what had happened. 

"There was not a system error over the holidays," he wrote.

Buffet explained the city typically sends out two infraction notices on top of the original ticket in case people lose it.

"During the holiday period, due to holiday closures, the City provides one additional notice of infraction."

Buffet said there's no way for the staff to know whether or not someone received something in the mail, so they can't say how many drivers are or are not notified about tickets.

The city sent Martin a scan of the ticket he was issued. It shows how fines rise based on how long it takes to pay. (Supplied by Peter Martin)

In a follow up email, the city clarified that the term "system error" was used "incorrectly."

A spokesperson added the cost of Martin's ticket dropped because the courtesy notice was never sent due to holiday closures.

"Since it's impossible to determine how many drivers may be in a similar situation, parking infractions, notices and the City's website include messaging on what steps drivers can take if they would like to dispute a parking notice," said Allison Jones.

'Same old, same old from the city'

Martin noted that his ticket outlines that parking fines start out at $35. If the vehicle's owner doesn't pay within seven days that jumps to $87 and if payment still isn't received within 45-75 days the cost hits $112.

He pointed out that while $87 might not be a big deal to him it could be a big burden for someone in a different financial situation.

"It's the same old, same old from the city. Instead of being proactive and going 'There was a mistake made, let's reduce everyone's tickets back to what they were from these dates' they wait until someone calls in … and then they do it."

The city says drivers who want to discuss a parking ticket should visit the Parking Offices on Main Street West to speak with a screening officer.