Real parking czars don’t stop at tickets – updates

Extreme Contrarian friend BT writes:

I support execution for people who violate the parking ban. Humanely, of course. Deputize the plow drivers so they can haul the outlaws out of their beds on the spot and shoot them in the back of the head, Chinese-style. (“This ain’t no feather-duster I’m packing.”) Many Halifax drivers are smarter than coyotes, so after half a dozen or so shootings, the streets will be clear. Real clear, if you get my drift.

More moderate Contrarian reader JS has paid three tickets for his son’s lack of access to parking at night—the plates are still in Dad’s name.

In the case you describe as in probably many other similar situations, we are left with the choice of the devil and the deep blue sea. Surely someone could come up with a permitting system for those who have no reasonable choice. It disturbs me that there are numerous examples across the country of reasonable accommodation for winter parking yet HRM does not seem interested in any compromises.

Parking czar, please note – updated

Contrarian reader Jim Guild writes:

In Montreal, which gets a shitload of snow (to use a complex meteorological term), I believe they still allow parking on one half of most residential streets. On odd-numbered days, drivers can park on the side of the street where odd-numbered houses are located; on even-numbered days they can park on the other side. This means that local residents don’t have to rent parking for the winter, out-of-towners can visit overnight, Victor Syperek’s buddies can still be designated drivers for their drinking friends, and the snow ploughs can still make the roads passable.

Reader Gary Campbell disagrees:

You’re right about one thing, it is a small issue, so let it go. Hell, you are not even a resident of HRM. If it were not for you and a drunk nightclub owner, this would not be an issue at all. The so-called parking czar is indeed accountable to elected officials who have the power to change the bylaw. I noticed you mention nothing about how street parking prevents plows from opening the street to vehicles in an emergency. In the time it would take to have the offender towed, lives could be lost, but I suppose causing you some inconvenience is the greater evil. Let’s leave this issue to the residents of HRM many of whom agree with the ban.

I am, in fact, a part-time resident of HRM. The driveway my house shares with another often has one more car than parking spaces. The last car blocks everyone else in, requiring negotiations among three households (one house is a duplex) to determine who will be leaving in what order in the morning. Having one car (usually mine) park on the street avoids this.

That’s no problem when snow is falling and streets need clearing, but on clear nights when no snow plowing is underway, it’s an unnecessary imposition by overreaching officials who find it inconvenient to make distinctions between nights when a ban is needed and nights when it is not.

The safety issue is specious. Is there a single instance in the last five years when on-street parking has prevented plows from opening streets to emergency vehicles and a life has been lost as a result? I’m unaware of any. There may, however, have been cases where fear of fines encouraged the impaired to drive home when then should have left their car on the street.

I am not opposed to a parking ban. On the contrary, I favor vigorous enforcement—heavy fines, towing—during storms. But I oppose fines for that purpose when there is no snow clearing taking place.

Jim Guild’s suggestion of an alternate side rule would also solve the alleged problem.

Halifax’s parking czar relents—for now

Halifax’s unaccountable parking czar Ken Reashor used his arbitrary powers yesterday to end the Halifax peninsula parking ban 26 days earlier than expected.

The ban held sway for 84 days, from December 14 through March 4. I can’t find actual snowfall data for that period, but the table below (sources here and here) shows average snow conditions in Halifax (the only data available to officials when they impose the ban).

Halifax snow

So in an average year, the 84-days period from December 14 through March 4 would include about 16 days with snowfall and about 68 without.

Why not target the 16 days when a ban is actually needed, with towing blitzes and much stiffer fines? Why not focus on the miscreants who actually interfere with snow removal and stop inconveniencing responsible car owners for an entire winter? It’s not as though Halifax sends trucks around on non-snowy nights to push snow back to the curb.

Ah but it’s so much more convenient for snow-removal bureaucrats to kick everyone off the streets all the time. Much more lucrative, too. Czar Reashor’s raiders issued 7,637 tickets during the ban, for a windfall revenue of $381.850, 81 percent of which presumably came on nights when no snow fell.

Czar Reashor is unaccountable in that city council can neither fire him nor tell him how to do his job. Only provincial transportation minister Bill Estabrooks can do that. Estabrooks, who represents a part of HRM where the ban is not imposed, bobs and weaves on the topic, insisting he needs direction from HRM Council and a change in legislation before protecting citizens from over-reaching bureaucrats. He’d sing a different tune if they ticketed in Timberlea.

Non-peninsular HRM councillors, who get the windfall revenue but not the aggravation, smugly stall for time. Two weeks ago, they rejected downtown councillor Dawn Marie Sloane’s  proposal that council write Estabrooks asking him to ease up on the ban. Outlying councillors insisted a committee first study the issue—and report back once the 2011 ban is moot.

In the Great Scheme, this is a small issue. But it is emblematic of the arrogance that overtakes people with power: the comfortable notion that citizens must serve the convenience of officials, not the other way round.

Snap your finger, Bill — feedback

Bruce Wark, writing from an HRM neighborhood where the ban on overnight parking is not enforced, critiques my critique of the ban:

[Y]ou use “reasonable accommodation” as though you have proved it. It is as though you are saying that your assertion in the first paragraph is sufficient to support what you’re saying in the second. The rules of logic say that he who asserts must prove. Furthermore, your assertion that “traffic tsar” Ken Reashor “evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation” is a neat, but logically unconvincing way of first, labelling Reashor as a Russian dictator, then glossing over necessary proof by using the verb “evinces.” Where has Reashor evinced this lack of interest? What did he actually say and to whom? Did you talk to him yourself?

You acknowledge that “some car owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms.” Why is this not a problem? You go on to assert that “Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city.” But that begs the following question: If the parking ban is limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, what incentive would car owners have to make alternate arrangements? Is it not possible that risking two or three $50 tickets would be cheaper than paying for four months of off-street parking? It’s not necessary for me to argue that car owners are necessarily irresponsible, only that they may be unrealistically optimistic about the number of snow storms in an unpredictable climate. Besides, if the snow does start to fall overnight, where are car owners supposed to move their vehicles if they haven’t already made alternative arrangements? We all know from experience that snow can fall unexpectedly overnight. So why is public safety necessarily a “specious claim” and what proof do you have for your assertion that “the real goal is bureaucratic convenience?”

Reashor is a “tzar” in the metaphorical sense that provincial legislation imunizes him from oversight by the council elected to run HRM. “Tzar” is a common, if irreverent, journalistic locution for unelected officials who exercise power without oversight. Reashor evinced no interest in a reasonable accommodation of the public’s desire for on-street parking on snow-free nights in the brief declaration he issued imposing the ban — a declaration I linked to in the original post. His declaration omits any reference the inconvenience it will cause the majority of law abiding citizens who do remove their cars from the streets during snow storms. It merely advances — without the proof Wark demands of me — a claim of public safety I find specious.

Claims of public safety trip lightly off the tongues of law enforcement and regulatory officials. The US Transportation Safety Board claims public safety requires the Halifax Seaport Market to keep its glorious harbor-facing doors closed at all times, and to surrender one-quarter of its floorspace whenever a cruise ship is in port. Toronto Police claim public safety required the use of massive force against protesters at last year’s G-20. The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority claims public safety precludes citizens carrying standard tubes of toothpaste onto commercial airliners. The security zealots at the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal claim public safety demands I show photo ID before entering the Joe Howe Building. Stephen Harper thinks public safety demands throwing dope smokers in jail.

These claims have proliferated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Invocation of “public safety” does not facilitate debate; It trumps debate, and it is rarely buttressed by any persuasive argument.

I do agree with Wark on one point: it is a problem when car owners fail to remove their cars from the streets during snow emergencies. Not a public safety calamity, but a problem. It makes snow plowing more difficult and less effective. Reashor has an interest in deterring this behaviour. My objection to his method is that it is disproportionate to the problem. It targets scores of innocent car owners for every miscreant; it makes no distinction between nights when snow plowing takes place and the far greater number of nights when it does not. Such a massive overreaction, IMHO, constitutes prima facie evidence of a lack of interest in reasonable accommodation.

If $50 fines are insufficient deterrent, and they may be, why not increase the fine, but apply it only to the scofflaws? Why not carry out frequent towing blitzes during and immediately after storms, and charge those towed for the full cost plus a punitive surcharge?

This touches on another aspect of the blanket ban. Fining the innocent generates windfall revenue for HRM, which may be why some city officials, and councillors from neighborhoods where it is not enforced, are happy to have a traffic tzar to blame for the system.

Snap your finger, Bill

Estabrooks-150Dartmouth Cole Harbour MLA Andrew Younger has pulled off something remarkable: He has outflanked the most populist politician in the province on an issue of populism.

Earlier this week, Younger challenged Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks to use his ministerial powers to lift HRM’s hated overnight winter parking ban, implemented last month by fiat of the city’s unelected, unaccountable traffic tzar.

The response from Estabrooks, normally one of the most adroit and citizen-connected politicans in Nova Scotia, sounded uncharacteristically  stuffy:

I’m not going to interfere in the winter parking ban,” he said. “I’m going to wait to see what the councillors advise me and what they expect from me. It involves new legislation, if we’re going to change some of these things it will be with legislative changes made in the spring session of the legislature. This is not something that at the snap of a finger can be corrected.”

I’m not going to interfere in the winter parking ban. I’m going to wait to see what the councillors advise me and what they expect from me. It involves new legislation, if we’re going to change some of these things it will be with legislative changes made in the spring session of the legislature. This is not something that at the snap of a finger can be corrected.

But a quick perusal of the relevant legislation shows that it can be corrected with the snap of a finger—Estabrooks’s finger. If unelected municipal officials were slapping $50 tickets on windshields in Estabrooks’s Timberlea-Prospect riding, the minister’s fingers would be veritable castanets.

Younger-150The blanket ban is a classic case of over-reach by the nanny state. Yes, the community has a shared interest in snow clearing, and on-street parking can interfere with that process. A parking ban limited to times when snow is actually being cleared would be a reasonable accommodation of another shared community interest: the availability of parking spaces for residents and back-shift workers not rich or lucky enough to have access to private, off-street parking.

But traffic tsar Ken Reashor evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation. Because an intermittent ban, limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, means that some car-owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms, Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city with a blanket, four-month ban. To justify this, he invokes a specious claim of public safety, when the real goal is bureaucratic convenience.

Estabrooks says he’s waiting to hear from HRM council on the matter, but councillors in districts singled out for selective enforcement of the ban have long protested, just as Estabrooks would protest if anyone tried to enforce it in his district. Worse, provincial legislation establishing traffic authorities has been deliberately designed to shield these bureaucratic entities from municipal oversight—or political oversight of any kind.

This anti-democratic structure empowers Reashor to enact whatever parking rules please him, and HRM council is powerless to interfere. Indeed, Estabrooks is the only democratically elected official with the power to curb Reashor’s abuse. Waiting ’til spring to end a ban that will be over by then doesn’t cut it.

For heaven’s sake, Bill, exercise the common touch that has made you a democratic icon. Voters trust you to protect citizens against crap like this. Snap your finger.