Woman's parking ticket fight prompts parking authority changes

Ombudsman's investigation leads to 4 recommendations after car with woman's stolen licence plates on it ticketed

Woman received parking ticket for car that wasn't hers after plates stolen

A Manitoba woman who received a parking ticket after her licence plates were stolen won't have to pay the fine following a Manitoba Ombudsman investigation. (CBC)

A Manitoba woman caught in a bureaucratic snafu between the Winnipeg Parking Authority, police procedure and city bylaws won't have to fork out for a ticket she got after her licence plates were stolen.

In responding to the woman's 2017 complaint, Manitoba's Ombudsman's office has issued several recommendations to the WPA, including that the parking authority and police create a formal arrangement to share report information when citizens fight a parking ticket on the grounds their vehicle or plates were stolen.

The woman, who is unidentified in the Ombudsman's recent report on her case, reported her licence plates stolen in December 2016 and immediately reported the theft to police.

On Feb. 24, 2017 she received a "final notice" from the WPA for a Dec. 23, 2016 ticket from a vehicle bearing her stolen plates.

The notice stated she had until March 29 to pay $100 or schedule a review with a WPA screening officer.

The woman phoned Winnipeg's 311 service and was told she'd need to obtain her police report to prove her plates were stolen. Police, in turn, required her to file a freedom-of-information request to get the report.

Missed deadline, forced to pay

What the 311 operator failed to say was that the 30-day deadline still applied and she needed to contact the parking agency to set a review date within the time restrictions.

"Given the instructions from the 311 operator, it would not be unreasonable for someone to believe the process to review the parking violation was underway," the ombudsman's report states.

Police fulfilled her access request by March 27, but the woman was out of the country and couldn't submit the police report and other information to the WPA until April 13, 2017.

Just over a month later, the WPA told her the ticket was not reviewable as the March 29 deadline had passed and she had to pay up.

WPA works with 311, police on changes

The ombudsman's investigation found that while the WPA acted within the letter of the law, the information flow from 311 to the woman lacked clarity.

"We recommend that, if the WPA is going to rely on the 311 service to be a main contact for citizens to contact when enquiring about the process for setting a review with a screening officer for a parking violation, then it is incumbent on the WPA to ensure that the information provided is correct and complete," said the report.

The WPA modified the "script" 311 operators read to people requiring access requests as of last August. They now encourage people to submit a request for a screening officer review right away.

In addition, the parking agency has established a process to get police information in some cases, thus doing away with the need for an access request.

"This is a positive administrative change," the ombudsman's report said.

However, there is still no formal agreement between the WPA and police on the issue, the report notes.

According to the report, the WPA told the ombudsman it would not attempt to collect on the $100 fine.

30-day screening appointment timeframe stands: city spokesperson

While declining to discuss the specific case, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson told CBC News Manitoba law requires the province to enforce the collection of a fine after the 30-day time period expires.

"The process for an individual who is served a final notice is the same for all individuals, irrespective of the circumstances of the original penalty notice," the spokesperson said in an email.  

"In all cases, a request for screening must be submitted within 30 days of receipt of the final notice."

The ombudsman's report said between August 2016 and November 2017, 173 tickets were reviewed by WPA screening officers relating to stolen plates or vehicles.

All were submitted within the required timeframe. Of those tickets 163 were cancelled, seven reduced to a warning and three had the fines reduced, the report said.

Only one was ultimately dismissed, the same that triggered the ombudsman's investigation.