THE GREAT TRAFFIC TICKET GAME
Any number can play : last year it was 20,000 cops against 6,000,000 motorists, and the cops won by 2,000,000 tickets. If you're a player, too, here's what you should know
ONE MORNING RECENTLY a girl parked her sports car on Centre Ave. in downtown Toronto under a “no parking at any time" sign. When she returned in half an hour her car bore a familiar yellow two-dollar parking tag. So did the three other cars on the block.
Next day the same girl parked the same car on the same block. This time, though, she raised the hood and placed a screwdriver, wrench and pliers on a square of canvas draped over the fender. When she came back half an hour later a policeman was tagging the cars behind hers. She stopped and watched from a discreet distance. He walked past her car. glanced at the open hood and tools — and tagged the car ahead.
The car-out-of-order stunt is one of the rarer and more whimsical manoeuvres in what, on the basis of the number of people taking part and the grim enthusiasm with which they play, has become a national year-round game: the game of cops-and-motorists. The object of the game is to avoid being caught in various traffic violations; and, if the player loses the first round, to wriggle out of paying the cash penalty.
Nobody keeps score of the motorists’ successes in dodg-
ing traffic tickets or summonses, but—in Toronto at any rate—there's some indication of w'hat the chances are of beating a fine. Recently a month-long check of summonses issued by Metro police showed that eleven percent of motorists decided to come into court w ith a defense or an excuse rather than pay the fine outright. Of these, one in three escaped a fine.
The score for the law-enforcement side is a matter of record, and it’s impressive: last year there were three million convictions in Canada for traffic infractions. (That doesn't mean that three million motorists were convicted, because some people have gaudy records as repeaters—like one Gilbert McManus, who moved from Toronto to Ottawa not long ago leaving sixteen unpaid traffic tickets behind. He was fined $192 when police finally caught up w'ith him.)
But it does mean that the proliferation of the motor vehicle has brought with it history’s greatest—and fastest— increase in lawbreaking. From a standing start in 1904, when automobiles were first registered in Canada, it took just fifteen years for traffic offenses to become the most prevalent single method of running afoul of the law. In 1919 it passed drunkenness as the most frequent offense; in 1928 it outnumbered all others combined. Today traffic
breaches ex eed all other offenses against the law by a margin of approximately ten to one. In those fifty-eight years, of course, automobiles — the cause of all the trouble — have increased from near zero to near six million.
If traffic tickets are a game to motorists, and a headache to police forces, they are a major industry to the provincial and particularly the municipal governments across Canada. Last year they yielded a revenue of about $25,()()().()()(). That's a substantial sum in any budget, but actually it's only a tiny fraction of nearly a billion dollars which the various Canadian levels of government extract from the citizens for the privilege of owning and operating motor vehicles in the form of excise tax. sales tax. fuel tax. auto licenses and driving permits, surcharges for uninsured cars —and of course penalties for speeding, going through red lights, failing to stop at stop streets and parking in prohibited places.
A PR MAN IN JAIL: PUBLIC RELATIONS DIDN’T WORK
But by some quirk of human nature people agonize more over a two-dollar parking ticket than over the average of $165 each they pay in other imposts on their motoring; they spend more time and effort to beat a summons costing five dollars than they could earn by honest labor. The reason. in the opinion of Deputy Chief John Murray, head of Toronto's traffic division, is that "We're all gamblers— there’s a little bit of larceny in every one of us and we get angry when we're caught.”
The angriest motorist Murray ever saw' was doubleparked on Spadina Ave., blocking two other properly parked cars. The deputy chief, who carries a book of yellow tickets just like any traffic cop. tagged the car just as the
owner emerged from a restaurant carrying a couple of sandwiches. When the motorist saw the tag he dashed his new $ 15-fedora to the sidewalk and stamped it into shreds. (In Winnipeg a motorist attacked an officer with a lighted cigar when he found a ticket on his car. and paid a fine for assault as well as for parking overtime.)
Few motorists regard a parking infraction as a crime, but some have discovered with incredulity and amazement how readily a "forgotten" two-dollar parking tag can land them literally in the ranks of the criminals. A few weeks ago Brian Swarbrick. a Toronto public relations man and writer, was awakened at 7.30 in the morning by a policeman at the door. Swarbrick had forgotten to pay two parking tickets. Later he had forgotten, he said, to do anything about two follow-up summonses and finally a notice of conviction. By now the original four-dollar penalty had grown to $28, and the policeman at the door demanded cash or Swarbrick's surrender.
Swarbrick didn't happen to have $28 at the moment, so he was driven in the police car to police headquarters, where he was transferred to a paddywagon which already contained another traffic offender who owed $14. At another police station they picked up a third man who had accumulated $126 in fines for nine tickets. At the Don Jail the three parking-ticket criminals were made to hand over their belts (as a precaution against attempted suicide) and placed in a bullpen with forty other prisoners. These included a Puerto Rican charged with wounding, three drug addicts, one pimp, two men charged with rape, and thirty drunks.
At midmorning a friend paid Swarbrick’s fine and he
was released. The nine-ticket
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Reporters, sports writers, hotel clerks, anybody with $2 could fix a ticket in Montreal. Not now
man stayed in jail, however. He explained that he had been picked up at 6 a.m.. too early to telephone the place where he worked. "So I’ll lose my job anyway, and I might as well serve time. Five days for Si26 isn't bad pay.”
Another man who made a habit of working out his parking fines in jail was Zoltán Szoboszloi. of Toronto. Last year he was in the Don Jail five times, serving sentences of from three to five days.
Perhaps the man who played the parking-ticket game with the greatest zest was Derek Blank, a fun-loving New Zealander who sometimes turned up for work as a CBC stagehand in Toronto wearing white tie and tails. Blank specialized in gambling with the parking summonses received by fellow workers at the CBC—and he even made a profit out of it.
This is how the Blank gambit worked: When a colleague had ignored a twodollar tag and had received a four-dollar summons. Blank would agree to accept responsibility for the summons in exchange for payment of the original two-dollar fine. With the two dollars in his pocket Blank would appear in court and plead not guilty. About half the time the policeman who issued the tag was not in court and the charge would be dismissed. If the officer happened to be present. Blank would say he was appearing for a colleague who had been tagged while delivering films or other material to the CBC. More often than not Blank's plea was accepted and he left the court with a two-dollar profit. His best customer was Wilfred Fielding, a TV producer. When Fielding resigned from the CBC recently the walls of his office were papered with yellow tags.
But the Blank technique is now obsolete. Toronto police discovered that too many motorists caught on to the fact that the officers who tagged cars had to give up their days off to appear in court if defendants allowed the tags to ripen into a summons. Nowadays traffic officers are assigned to court one day a month, and the summonses resulting from the tags they issue are dated accordingly.
People engaged in the arts and showbusiness seem to have particular trouble
with traffic tickets, perhaps because their minds are on higher things and they forget such mundane matters as obeying traffic laws and paying up when they get caught.
A Montreal strip teaser, who had a habit of parking her red convertible wherever it was most convenient to her. collected an impressive hatch of tickets. When she was haled into court she explained that she had given her husband the money to pay for the tickets. She was so indignant when she was assessed a large fine that she went home and ordered her husband to pack and get out.
Incidentally, motorists who have not driven in Montreal in recent years should take warning that that once free-and-easy city has changed. There was a time when traffic violations were policed in a most haphazard manner. As a long-time resident of Montreal put it. “Illegally parked cars were sometimes tagged, but most people could get them fixed. Any police reporter or sports writer, and many hotel managers, could do it. Many cars whose owners were known to the officer on the beat were never tagged at all. It was the same with breaches like going through a red light or failing to stop at a stop street—if von knew anybody at all you never got a summons, and lots of people got off by handing the cop who stopped them a dollar or two along with their license.”
The beginning of the end of that slaphappy situation in Montreal came when Pacifique Plante became police head and started to crack down on petty bribery. In the last year under Police Director J. A. Robert enforcement has really tightened up. A recent recruiting campaign for police constables has produced a bunch of eager-beaver cadets anxious to earn the chief’s commendation with their zeal in handing out tickets.
Nowadays even law-abiding Montrealers arc complaining that the traffic enforcement situation has swung too far the other way. Relatives and friends visiting patients in hospitals are particularly bitter at the number of five-doilar parking tags they have been collecting. Nearly all Montreal hospitals have inadequate parking, and
"The cops know this and they swarm around the hospitals during visiting hours," one regular victim said disgustedly.
The traffic-ticket "fix" probably survived in Montreal longer than in most cities, but it's pretty well obsolete everywhere now . The reason is not so much higher administrative morality as the vast growth of the traffic-ticket industry, which is now largely automated and gives little scope for the "human touch." This does not mean that police and magistrates will not listen to reasonable excuses. Deputy Chief Murray s.,ys his department receives many letters and telephone calls, and tickets are canceled if the motorist's story sounds reasonable—a doctor speeding to a cali, a husband rushing his pregnant wife to hospital. a motorist who "just went into a store to get change for the parking meter and the officer tagged my car."
Not long ago Patrick Duguay. a Toronto taxi driver, was cruising along Bloor St. in Toronto when Constable Vincent Smith flagged him down and asked him to pursue a car in which a man was escaping from a supermarket holdup. After a breakneck chase in which the officer fired out of Duguay's car three times, the suspect was caught. Duguay was shaken by the experience and stopped for a cup of coffee. When he came out of the restaurant there was a tag on his car. Police at Markham Street station told him that in the circumstances they would consider withdrawing the charge.
But police insist that no class of motorist is exempt from traffic tickets. One of the most eminent traffic-ticket collectors is Hon. Philip Arthur Gaglardi. a minister of the gospel and minister of highways of B. C.. who is periodically pinched for speeding on his own highways. In Toronto, plain-clothes officers of the RCMP complain that they are particularly vulnerable to traffic tickets. Because of the nature of their job. their cars are unidentified, and they frequently have to park in any available space. (In Winnipeg. Constable Andy Davidson, unofficial champion ticket-issuer of the city police, once tagged his own car when his son parked it on Davidson's beat. )
Ali in all Ontario motorists are the principal victims of Canada's great trafficticket game. Perhaps that could be restated as “the worst offenders against traffic laws.” At any rate Ontario drivers, who own a little more than one third of all the motor vehicles in Canada, have fifty-three percent of all Canada's traffic violations registered against them. Quebec motorists own twenty-one percent of the cars—and get twenty-five percent of the convictions. That leaves the rest of Canada with forty percent of the cars and only twenty-two percent of the traffic convictions. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics, which prepared these figures, points out that urban traffic congestion is probably as much to blame for that situation as bad traffic habits.
Nevertheless, local laws and the personality of drivers in different regions affect their liability to get—and deserve—traffic tickets. The difference between driving in Toronto or Winnipeg and in Vancouver is noticeable. Recently a Toronto resident drove a visiting Vancouver couple down University Avenue. Near the Royal Ontario Museum an elderly man made a move to step off the curb. The Toronto driver gave him a short blast of the horn and the pedestrian stepped back smartly. The Vancouver woman was shocked. “At home." she said, "you’d be arrested for that."
Robert Metcalfe, a Maclean’s correspondent who w'as a Winnipeg resident until he was transferred to Vancouver six months ago, comments: "It took me two
months to purge myself of Winnipeg driving habits. Compared to the courtesy of Vancouver drivers, we Winnipeg drivers are impatient, ill-mannered boors. First thing you learn here is to honor the pedestrian—it's a $25 fine if you don’t give him the right of way at marked intersections. Drivers here not only give right of way to pedestrians and animals, but to one another. You see a car stopped up front and you don't think of passing him. especially on the inside. He’s likely stopped for a pedestrian who may have just stepped off the curb.”
But nothing is perfect in this world of multiplying traffic. If Vancouver’s traffic bylaws make Vancouver's motorists the most alert in Canada, they also make Vancouver pedestrians the most relaxed. The pedestrians have grown so confident of their right of way that numerous elderly persons have been killed when they stepped serenely into the path of cars. Children get a false sense of security, too—and worse. Motorists complain that in some districts children deliberately dawdle while crossing streets and even throw taunts at the drivers. Recently a research team at the University of British Columbia under Dr. John Read recommended repeal of the bylaw giving pedestrians the right of way, on the grounds that it was producing a generation of accident-prone pedestrians.
"Vancouver pedestrians wouldn’t last five minutes in Montreal,” says one Vancouver observer, “and Vancouver drivers would completely disrupt Montreal’s feverish traffic.”
Vancouver’s traffic law enforcement system is an unusual combination of toughness and gentleness. Jack Marshall, a Toronto photographer, discovered the tough part on a visit to Vancouver a few months ago. He w'as having a drink in a Georgia Street bar and checking his watch so that he could drop a dime in the meter outside before his time expired. But when he got there his car was gone.
“Buster’s towed it away,” a passerby told Marshall. “Buster’s" is a teeth - gnashing word to Vancouver motorists. Buster’s Auto Towing Service, with seventeen radioequipped tow' trucks, has since 1945 held a contract with Vancouver police for towing away cars parked in restricted or prohibited zones. Last year Buster’s towed 9,609 cars off Vancouver streets.
Each tow-away costs the car owner a five-dollar fine, five dollars for Buster’s services, one dollar for police garage storage, plus two dollars a day if the owner doesn’t redeem his car within three days. Vancouver drivers claim that Buster's men are overzealotis, that they don't wait to be summoned by police but spot their tow trucks in strategic locations and monitor radio calls from police cruisers reporting parking infractions to headquarters. “We get beefs” cheerfully admits Charles Dickison. Buster’s manager.
On the other hand, Vancouver police last year started issuing “pinkies,” tickets that give motorists a gentle warning of infraction rather than require them to pay a fine. In the first two months police issued 36,000 "pinkies” and 4,800 fewer tickets; “pinkies” saved Vancouver motorists $72,000, which was good for police public relations but bad for the traffic ticket industry.
The traffic ticket industry is. strangely, the only form of legal penalty that depends on the co-operation and good will of its victims for its success. If enough owners of tagged cars took advantage of all the legal loopholes and routine delays in the system, instead of meekly paying up. they could quickly throw the traffic ticket situation into a state of utter and costly confusion. A number of Winnipeg motorists have worked out a plan which, while it doesn't save them paying their two-dollai
parking penalties eventually, gives the courts and police a month and a half of extra work and costs about $15 for the two-dollar fine.
The system is too complicated to describe in detail, but in a nutshell it consists of reporting loss of the original tag. then, after a dozen steps involving remands, reissue of summonses and avoiding being served personally with the final summons, turning up in court with a lost ticket voucher which costs only two dollars. A man who has worked this system more than once asserts “It's foolproof. There's
not a thing the police can do to stop it.”
Most drivers wouldn't want to go to such lengths to stall a two-dollar tag, but there are a few simple measures even the meekest motorists can take. First is to see that all the facts are written correctly on the tag. A few weeks ago a Toronto man received a ticket dated April 12. 1968. He waited the permitted five days and mailed in a cheque dated April 17, 1968. He hasn’t heard any more about the matter.
Actually, it may not require help from the victim to snarl the whole traffic ticket
industry in a hopeless tangle. There are signs that this is beginning to happen. And the cause, appropriately enough, is the traffic that chokes Canadian cities. Recently North York, second-largest municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, demanded a night traffic court of its own. Toronto’s night court, designed to relieve pressure from its regular traffic courts, is located downtown. North York finds that it has become almost intolerable for defendants, police and magistrates to make their way to the court. Reason: Toronto’s heavy traffic. ★