Drivers may have been able to get away with it for a while, but now the City of Winnipeg is taking aim at people who park in fire lanes, school zones and other designated spaces.
The Winnipeg Parking Authority on Monday launched "Be Aware. Park with Care," a campaign to highlight no-parking zones that are commonly ignored by drivers — and to warn them that a crackdown has begun. Under the new program, the parking authority will use vehicles equipped with cameras to patrol areas like schools and shopping malls. They will take pictures of the licence plates of drivers parked where they shouldn't be. A ticket will be mailed out to the offender.
Shannon Murray, a Winnipeg mom, said she's worried that will make it harder to drop off her five-year-old son Andrew at preschool.
"It's curious to me where we're going to have to park, then, if we have to bring our child into the school," she said. "We have no access to the school. There's nowhere to park around here."
Parent Jimmy Martinez said he'll worry about the new policy if he gets a ticket in the mail.
"I think it's unfortunate, it's already a bad situation with the parking here the way it is. I think if anything they should try to redirect those funds into finding a way to make parking better for people, as opposed to charging them and taking money out of our pocket," Martinez said.
"Everybody does it, because space is at a premium at this point, right?"
Ryan Arabsky of the Winnipeg Parking Authority said beefed-up enforcement is in the interest of safety.
"People tend to want to park in the most convenient spot and they're not always thinking safety first," he said. "In terms of fire lanes, a lot of times, you know, what the fire department has told us is seconds count. Even if you're running in for a minute and running out, those seconds count, so it's important that that space is available."
He said the parking authority is aware of the concerns of parents who say that it will be harder to drop their kids off at school, and recommended they park a little farther away and walk with their child.
But Murray said in her case, that could create its own safety hazard. Her son's school is on a busy street, and she's worried about him crossing the road if she parks across from the school instead of right in front of it.
She said she won't be impressed if she finds a ticket in her mailbox.
"Oh, I would be quite upset," she said. "I think I would probably go downtown and fight it."
Crackdown praised by city councillors
Arabsky said the new program is more efficient than a parking authority officer patrolling an area on foot and writing tickets by hand. It takes advantage of the new municipal bylaw enforcement act, which came into effect last August and gives the parking authority the option to send tickets by mail instead of issuing them in-person.
"It is more efficient and part of the issue with an officer walking around — what would happen is our officer would attend an area, they would identify an infraction, they would then proceed to write a ticket. The person in the vehicle, we don't have the authority to say you must wait for your ticket, so the person could then just drive away," he said.
"In a lot of cases, all they would do is just circle the block which then creates even further safety issues and traffic issues."
Fines for parking in a fire lane or in a space for those with disabilities can run up to $300. Breaking the rules in a school zone can cost you up to $70.
Any tickets issued will go through a quality assurance check to ensure each one is valid, Arabsky said, and the tickets will be mailed out the morning after the infraction.
But Arabsky says he hopes the awareness campaign will be so effective, the parking authority won't have to issue any tickets at all.
The crackdown has been praised by Winnipeg city councillors.
"Parking illegally around schools, in fire lanes and in designated parking spaces can cause serious safety concerns, traffic delays and inconvenience," said Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chair of the city's standing policy committee on innovation.
"I'm pleased to see the Winnipeg Parking Authority take the initiative to educate the public and emphasize that these spaces are saved for something more important than your convenience."
"Illegally parked vehicles during school pickup and dropoffs create serious safety hazards for children and cause traffic delays," said Coun. Brian Mayes, the city's liaison for school boards and youth opportunity.
"I am thrilled the Winnipeg Parking Authority is launching this campaign and working with schools to address these concerns."