HOW DO YOU KNOW THERE'S A BYLAW? BECAUSE YOU GOT A TICKET
I’m going to tell you a short story about how stopping for a coffee in Vernon cost me $15, could have cost me $40 or even $100 and roughly two hours of my day for a little known bylaw that chances are you know very little about.
And it applies in just about every community in the province.
I drove my little iNFOnews.ca two-seat Smart car to Vernon to meet a friend and employee for coffee and a chat and, of all things, to check out a City council meeting. Walking back to my car, I saw a ticket, which was odd because I had 40 minutes left on my meter.
I put an extra loonie in the meter, just to be sure, took a picture and walked off to City Hall to find out why I got a ticket while the meter was still running.
“Oh, this isn’t a parking ticket. It’s a Commercial Vehicle Bylaw Notice,” the lady at the counter told me.
“It’s for businesses that are loading or unloading or moving stuff for business reasons. You don’t have a Commercial Vehicle sticker for your truck?”
“It’s a Smart car,” I said.
She looked at the ticket and grimmaced. She told me it was likely a mistake and I should head over to the bylaw department building and explain. So off I went to the other building where I met another clerk who assured me it was valid. She told me bylaws officers were told to get on this.
“But how is mine a commercial vehicle?” I asked.
“Does it have advertising on it for your business?”
She shrugged and told me just last week, a couple from Kamloops with a sign on their pickup truck opted to stop in Vernon for breakfast on their way through and they also got dinged. That’s a $35 ticket, $15 if you pay within 14 days, $50 if you don’t pay it within a month.
I’ve since spoken to Clint Kanester, the man in charge of bylaws for the City of Vernon, who stands by the ticket. He conceded that you won’t find anything about the requirement on any public sign anywhere in Vernon and nor is it advertised on the website. He disagreed with the first clerk's rationale for the bylaw and said any vehicle being used for business, regardless of the business it’s doing, must buy a $25 to $50 decal to be in compliance. Heads up, Mary Kay.
Apparently this has been around for decades, but it depends greatly on how each municipality enforces it. And for the record, it’s on the books in Armstrong, Ashcroft, Coldstream, Enderby, Kamloops, Kelowna, Keremeos, Lytton, Lumby, Merritt, Oliver, Osoyoos, Peachland, Penticton, Princeton, Revelstoke, Spallumcheen, Summerland, Vernon and dozens of other municipalities outside the Thompson-Okanagan. He said some municipalities have opted into the province-wide scheme and don’t enforce it. That way they get free money each year from the regulator.
So I offered to do the City of Vernon a favour and let everyone know this exists and warn them that Vernon, at least, enforces it mercilessly.
It’s been a long time since I had to confront a bylaws department issue, but a few things stood out to me. I got three different interpretations of the bylaw from three different municipal staffers and it took me almost an hour on the website to even find the regulation. By my reading, a small car in no way fits the description offered on its bylaw. So ignorance of the law is no excuse — but only for chumps like me.
How does this broadest interpretation of what is a commercial vehicle help a city, beyond a quick and dirty cash grab? I am assured that if municipalities could check all vehicles to determine if they're registered to a business, they would ticket them, too. I don’t know why that surprises me.
I suppose it’s a good thing that municipalities adopt strategies from business, from time to time, but they seem to have chosen the most predatory practices. High fines, but lower if you pay it and just go away. More if you take too long. Again, I don’t know why that surprises me. But I wasn’t even done yet.
I could tell the last clerk felt awkward about the concept of a two-seat car as a commercial vehicle somehow damaging local roads or taking up space, which justifies the entire scheme.
“You can dispute it,” she said.
Then I pointed out the notice at the bottom of my ticket, telling me that if I am unsuccessful in my appeal, another $25 would be added to my fine amount. I could end up paying $75 for stopping in Vernon and still have to pay another $25 to be in compliance.
“Did the couple from Kamloops pay the ticket?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Then I should probably just pay it and get out of here.”
— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca