The city says it will stop issuing parking tickets downtown on Saturdays, until the Winnipeg Parking Authority clarifies its confusing policy.
On Tuesday, the authority said it would cancel or refund tickets issued downtown on Saturdays in December, following accusations of a cash grab over an apparent change to its enforcement practices on free parking at city meters, which wasn’t publicized.
"Earlier this year, it was brought to the WPA’s attention that some members of the public found the information related to the program unclear, and as a result, the WPA updated its website. It is acknowledged that the wording contained on both the stickers affixed to the downtown pay stations and the updated information on the website led to further confusion," a news release said.
However, Coun. Jeff Browaty said the situation is still confusing. In addition to cancelling and refunding the unfair tickets, the city should also apologize to those affected, he said.
"I think the city should act immediately to contact anyone who has been ticketed and tell them to not pay the tickets. They should also refund anyone who has paid already. I think in terms of customer service, that’s what the next step should be," said Browaty.
"They should, in fact, be apologizing to anyone who has received these tickets.
"This was all very inappropriately timed. There are so many unanswered questions here, and in the coming weeks, we want to get to those answers."
Despite stickers on downtown parking meters informing motorists parking is free for two hours on Saturdays, heading up to the holidays, people were finding tickets on their windshield.
When contacted over the weekend, a City of Winnipeg spokesman said the two hours of free parking only kicks in after the maximum paid time has expired.
The policy was approved by city council in 2012, he said — but minutes from council meetings of that year indicate the opposite is true. A report from the July 18, 2012, council meeting was clear: "No changes to Saturday parking will be recommended at this time."
The spokesman did not reply to further requests for clarification of the free parking policy.
If the change was indeed approved by council in 2012, no explanation was provided about why the enforcement of such a decision was only implemented this month. As recently as six months ago, the WPA website made no mention of the policy.
It remains unclear whether two hours of free parking would even be allowed to kick in after the maximum paid time had expired, given most overhead parking signs indicate vehicles can only be parked in one spot for two hours before they must be moved.
Earlier this month, the city approved an increase in parking fees at its meters. It said the move would increase the amount of turnover to free up short-term parking spaces.
While city council has discussed charging for parking downtown on Saturdays, Browaty (who was a councillor in 2012) said he doesn’t remember council approving such a change.
It appears only recently that the WPA started ticketing people for not feeding city meters on a Saturday, he said.
This isn’t the first time there’s been confusion over the city’s Saturday parking rules.
In 2016, data released by the City of Winnipeg showed more than 1,700 people had plugged meters on an average Saturday, despite what was understood to be two hours of complimentary parking.
In an interview with the Free Press at the time, Browaty indicated the rules were not widely understood even by councillors and the city had done a poor job of informing Winnipeggers about the rules.
As of Tuesday, the WPA’s website makes clear two hours of free parking is only offered after two hours has already been paid for. However, the stickers indicating otherwise remained on downtown meters.
It’s unclear when those stickers will be removed or when the WPA will begin enforcing the new policy.
Individuals who believe a ticket was issued in error are asked to visit the City of Winnipeg website for information on how to apply for a refund or cancellation.
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.