In an effort to clarify the ambiguous rule about free downtown parking on Saturdays, the Winnipeg Parking Authority inadvertently caused more confusion, its chief operating officer admitted Wednesday.
Following accusations of a cash grab by outraged motorists who were ticketed at parking meters on Saturdays this month, the parking authority backtracked on its new enforcement practices and apologized.
"As of this morning, all the tickets which have been issued have been cancelled. As some have already paid those tickets, I assure you the refund process has started," Randy Topolniski said during a hastily called news conference.
"We really intended to put some clarity to this situation. We didn’t intend to confuse people, but obviously it did, so we’ve taken steps to reverse that."
Topolniski said the bylaws surrounding downtown parking on Saturdays have been ambiguous for years.
Drivers are supposed to get two hours for free.
It was unclear whether parking was free for the first two hours or if drivers had to pay for two hours, and then get two free hours.
If enforcement officers saw a vehicle that was parked without payment being made, Topolniski said, the practice was to mark its tires with chalk and return in two hours to see if the vehicle had been moved or if payment had been made.
However, if enforcement officers came upon a vehicle for which two hours of parking was paid, the employee would allow the vehicle to stay for four hours before ticketing it. That practice was in place as far back as 2012.
It wasn’t until November of this year that the parking authority realized the ambiguous nature of the bylaws and made the decision to "bring clarity" to the situation, by making clear on its website that two hours of free parking would only be granted after two hours had been paid for.
Enforcement officers began ticketing motorists even though stickers on downtown meters read: "Two hours complimentary on Saturday."
It was pointed out the authority’s efforts to provide clarity started and ended with quietly changing the rules on its website, while leaving the stickers (indicating the opposite of the new rule) on the meters.
"I’m not going to mince words. That was certainly an operational failure on our part, which we certainly recognize," Topolniski said.
"There was no intent to raise any additional funds. It was just intended to provide clarity."
Before December, no one was unfairly ticketed due to the ambiguous nature of the bylaw, he said.
In addition, Topolniski disagreed people had been unnecessarily feeding downtown parking meters on Saturdays for years.
"I would not be able to comment on whether those people unfairly put their money in or not. We hadn’t had any concerns raised with it, so we carried on with business in that fashion," he said.
For the time being, motorists will get two hours of free parking downtown on Saturdays. If people stay longer than two hours, they’ll be expected to pay for additional parking.
That’s at least until the parking authority puts together a comprehensive review of its practices, which it plans to submit to city council.
If council approves changes to enforcement practices, the public will be properly notified before tickets are handed out, Topolniski said.
The city said 84 tickets and 25 warnings were handed out on Dec. 16 and Dec. 23.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at 10:04 PM CST: Writethrough