It's been about a month since Sandi Scanlan pressed the maximum-time button on a Winnipeg Parking Authority pay station and got a maximum surprise.
The authority has quietly introduced 12-hour paid street parking.
Who knew? More importantly, what's going on?
On that February afternoon, Sandi discovered the parking equivalent of Confusion Corner. This one streched from Lily Street to Waterfront Drive and a full block of Alexander Avenue. And, by further extension, well beyond to the Winnipeg Parking Authority itself.
She was going to the Manitoba Theatre Centre when she pressed that $1-an-hour pay station's maximum button on Alexander Avenue.
Naturally, given the time designated on the parking sign -- 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. -- and that she had inserted her credit card at precisely 1:30 p.m., Sandi expected her maximum payment for four hours would be $4.
But when she saw her ticket, she noticed the charge was $8.
And the maximum time she was allowed to legally pay and park had been extended, from 1:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
What happened to free parking after 5:30 p.m.?
What Sandi had missed, though, was the "12 hr" designation on the pay box.
Compounding that surprise is a cluster of parking signs. One restricted this 12-hour parking block to two hours for almost half its length. Another designates parking between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Plus, those misleading 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. signs.
Her husband, Rick Scanlan, was still confused after making two visits to the street.
Which is why he contacted the Winnipeg Parking Authority, and when he didn't get satisfaction there, he emailed me.
Colin Stewart, the WPA's manager of special projects, informed me that 12-hour parking has been around in a select and limited way since 2010, which is when the previously free parking on that stretch of Alexander Avenue was replaced with paid meter parking.
Stewart also said they haven't been able to program the pay stations in a way that allows them to designate times specifically on either side of 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., besides opening payment to 12 hours over any 24 hours.
But if you take a look at the WPA website -- which Stewart did when we were on the phone Wednesday -- there's no mention of 12-hour parking.
Instead, its says: "WPA paystations are programmed not to accept payment after 17:30, or on Sundays. Paystations are also programmed not to accept payment during morning rush hour (07:00 to 09:00) or afternoon rush hour (15:30 to 17:30)."
The website was last updated in September 2011, months after limited 12-hour parking ever-so-quietly came into play.
What the WPA posts on its website, versus the new reality, might result in confusing people like Sandi and Rick Scanlan.
"It may," Stewart said. "We'll have to get that corrected."
Which brings us to the bigger question. Whether paying for parking after 5:30 p.m. and before 9 a.m. is even legal.
Stewart candidly called that "the complicating factor."
"Because under the bylaw, we can't post paid time beyond 5:30 on the sign for day parking."
So is 12-hour parking legal? Stewart said it was a "grey area" and suggested I ask the city's legal services.
Just before 6 p.m. Friday, the city got back to me on that and said it acknowledged the problem.
As for the question I asked, the city said it's their legal "position" that they hadn't breached the bylaw.
Which makes me wonder why, on closer inspection of the 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. signs on Alexander, can you see what was there before?
A reference to 12 hours. Which has been covered up, so to speak.
So why was it covered up? Too confusing?
That would be the charitable answer.
Meanwhile, Stewart said the WPA has been going through a public consultation and their website remains open until Monday for feedback.
"We're going to be bringing forward proposals to make some changes to on-street public parking, including revisions to the parking-meter bylaw.
"It needs to be updated with the times," Stewart added.
And, their "position" on the legality of 12-hour parking notwithstanding, you can be assured of what their updated position will be.
Coming soon, the end of free parking after 5:30 p.m.