In what seems like a winter of discontent, Winnipeg city hall is again causing mass confusion as it rolls out its second major service program in recent weeks.
This time it's a new system of residential parking bans and snow zones, which kicked in before most citizens knew how it worked. The city had planned to do a public education program this Thursday and present the new alphabet of city zones, but Mother Nature didn't wait and 27 centimetres of snow fell on the weekend. As well, the city's new Know Your Zone website crashed Monday, although it was working again within an hour.
This week's confusion comes only a month after city hall was flooded with complaints about a new system of collecting trash and recyclable materials.
"We still need to do a better job communicating this program," Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said of the snow-zone system.
On Tuesday, city officials recognized its education campaign for the new system was faulty and granted amnesty to citizens ticketed for not moving vehicles during the snowstorm clean-up. This time, they will not have to pay fines of up to $150.
"We wanted to give the citizens of Winnipeg the benefit of getting to know their zones," said Ken Boyd, city streets maintenance manager.
On Monday night, 45 tow trucks couldn't keep up with the number of vehicles violating the residential parking ban. Close to 500 vehicles were towed on Monday to make way for plows, and another 2,700 received warning brochures.
The situation prompted a flood of calls to the city's 311 hotline, which received between 1,100 and 1,200 calls from citizens since Saturday. Boyd said most of the calls were from residents who wanted to find out their snow zone.
There were also some initial delays with Monday's garbage pickup, and the city advises residents not to put out their garbage and recycling carts until 7 a.m. on their designated collection day until the snow-clearing is finished.
Another complaint about the new parking ban in snow zones is that people who have to move their vehicle don't know where to safely park. The system is such that people can't figure out what streets aren't being cleared while theirs is being plowed, said Fort Rouge resident Ron Evans.
Browaty said the new system will be an improvement once the kinks are out because overnight parking bans can be issued with greater precision. It allows the parking bans in specific areas to run just 12 hours versus the three days it will take to clean residential streets after last weekend's snowstorm.
The new program comes one month after the rocky citywide launch of changes to Winnipeg's garbage and recycling collection system. Collections were initially plagued by delays and missed pickups across the city, prompting a slew of complaints.
While the city will hand out only warnings in the current plowing operation, expected to wrap up on Thursday, future violations will bring fines. Motorists who park their vehicle on a street during a parking ban will be fined and their vehicles towed.
Under the new bylaw, residents who don't move their vehicle must pay up to $150 and their auto will be towed to a plowed street or to one not scheduled to be plowed at that time. The city will use its snow-clearing budget to pay the cost of towing vehicles to nearby streets in the current plowing operation, Boyd said.
"This is, as you're well aware, a new system for residents, city staff and contractors, and we all have a steep learning curve to make sure the operation runs smoothly," Boyd said.
The city expects it will cost $3 million to clear residential streets following the weekend storm, which dumped 20 centimetres of snow across most of southern Manitoba. Crews have already cleared major streets and thoroughfares, costing the city about $1 million.
Residents can find out their zone by logging on to knowyourzone.winnipeg.ca or phoning 311. At 7 a.m. today, residents in snow zone A need to move their vehicles, as plowing will be underway until 7 p.m.