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Parking problems: Cars ticketed despite potential glitch that crashed Oshawa Honk Mobile system

Issues rare, but do happen Honk Mobile says

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s not the most welcoming sight. The slip of paper jammed beneath your wiper blade, the yellow tail of the parking ticket blowing in the wind. However, what if sometimes the city gets it wrong?

That’s exactly what Bowmanville resident Alex Middleton says happened to him earlier this year. Ahead of his shift inside the kitchen of Buster Rhino’s in downtown Oshawa, Middleton parked on the street, pulled out his phone and logged the hours into Honk Mobile. His receipt notes his payment was invoiced at 4:29 p.m. and his parking period began at 4:33 p.m., valid until 6:33 p.m., well after the 6 p.m. cutoff when parking in the downtown core becomes free.

However, later that evening, Middleton stepped out to find that pesky yellow paper flapping from his windshield. A $15 ticket for parking without properly displaying a ticket. He wasn’t the only one.

“Literally the entire street was just ticket, ticket, ticket, all the way down,” he says, noting that he could see six to eight cars baring similar tickets on the street.

Oddly, when Middleton yanked the ticket off his windshield, he found it was handwritten, opposed to the newly electronic printed tickets, and was apparently written at 4:30 p.m.

Believing it to be some kind of mistake, Middleton took his case to Service Oshawa, where he was informed that there had been an ongoing issue that day.

“When I went in to appeal it, the lady at the front desk said, ‘our electronic system was down that day we had no way of monitoring Honk (Mobile)’,” Middleton says.

For that reason, Middleton filed his appeal to quash the ticket. He offered to provide his payment receipt with Honk Mobile, which clearly shows he’d paid for the parking, but was told by the clerk at the desk that all that information would be linked with his license plate number and account, so it wasn’t necessary.

Then, on April 30, Middleton received the result of his screening which surprisingly upheld his penalty.

“Reviewed notes of applicant and notes of officer. There was no pay and display…nor was there time purchased in the pay and display,” the city’s screening results read.

“The whole thing is just screwed up. It’s $15. I don’t care about $15, but like I said there were six or eight other cars and how many other people is it happening to on a daily basis, how often is it happening monthly, yearly?” Middleton says.

According to Honk Mobile, when a parking session is started on their app, the license plate information is fed directly to the city’s enforcement software for bylaw officers to see.

“We process hundreds of transactions a day in Oshawa alone, and hundreds of thousands of transactions a year with very few issues,” says Mia Brown, director of operations for Honk Mobile. “There is human interaction, and occasionally error in the process on all sides, i.e. users can enter plate information incorrectly, and/or bylaw officers can and have ticketed vehicles in error. Both of these incidents are rare and are easily resolved. There are a lot of moving parts, but we’ve got them all covered.”

Brown notes that when an issue comes to their attention, they work with the city to attempt to figure out what went wrong and avoid the problem in the future.

“Our customer service team always works with the user and the city to find out what went wrong, ensure that the error isn’t repeated, and have the ticket dismissed,” Brown says. “We are constantly improving our internal processes and the steps taken with our customers based on feedback and our regular customer service reviews.”

Follow-up questions in terms of specifics related to Middleton’s incident were not returned.

According to Jerry Conlin, the city’s direction of municipal law enforcement and licensing services, in matters like this, generally staff can review the information and have the ticket quashed. However, he says he is unaware of the specifics of Middleton’s case, and says he was unaware of any system issue that occurred on Feb. 20, the day of Middleton’s ticket.

“I’ve heard of similar matters brought forward in the past,” he says. “Typically, we are aware when Honk Mobile is not operating and fortunately that isn’t that frequent that that happens. We would monitor if the system was down and if they received a ticket during that time because they couldn’t renew the paying for their parking, we would be able to address that.”

When asked about the details in Middleton’s case, particularly with his invoice being billed at 4:29 p.m. and the ticket being issued one minute after, Conlin says “it should be addressed” if Middleton goes through the proper appeals and screening process.

“I don’t know the specifics about this case, but I do know there is a grace period in the Honk Mobile too. It isn’t automatic that at 4:33 we issue a ticket, I believe it is a five to 10 minute grace period,” he says.

For Councillor Rick Kerr, who was made aware of Middleton’s incident, he says he can’t fault the officer who simply followed the Honk system and issued a ticket three minutes before the session went live.

“The point was, when the officer came along, this car was parked and had no parking ticket, or receipt on the dash, and there was nothing showing on the application,” he says. “So it was clearly parked, if you will, illegally.”

However, Councillor Doug Sanders says there may be more to the issue than that, noting that he’s been made aware of another issue with the Honk system that is allowing people to park on downtown streets the entire day, continually renewing their parking sessions beyond the two-hour maximum.

“It’s the glitch in the system for the Honk Mobile,” Sanders says. “We can’t have people who work in the downtown parking in front of stores all day.”

For Middleton’s issue, he says while these things aren’t common, there should be a better way to address them when they do.

“It’s the time, you have to come to a screening to get it done, it shouldn’t happen like that,” he says. “Jerry (Conlin) should be able to check it out, see that it’s invalid and say, ‘okay, I can remove the ticket for you.’”