Fines for Stopping During Rush Hour

One of the Toronto city councillors has apparently suggested that we raise the fines for stopping in an active lane during rush hour (680 News)… right now it is ~40-60 dollars (Canadian). He wants to raise it to 500. I’m not sure about this: does this seem… perhaps a bit extreme? Now lets think about it for a moment. Perhaps the punishment should fit the crime: or, in this case, the punishment should fit its effect on society. Now I’ll be honest: I do not drive in downtown Toronto for a whole host of reasons, of which this “stopping issue” is just one. Driving, parking, weaving in and out of traffic… trying to avoid traffic jams caused by people stopping on the sides of the roads… makes driving downtown a difficult sport. However, I pick my personal battles and I hate getting to work already upset: so it’s one I choose not to play.

Our scenario: driver is travelling along a jammed two-lane road downtown and decides he needs some caffeine: so he stops for a Starbucks or a Tim Horton’s coffee, jumps out of his car and runs in for a minute. Well, more like ten minutes… have you seen the lines in these places? So he (yes, I know, I’m gender stereotyping) so he causes a traffic backup that affects everyone behind him, causing a bottleneck that literally halves the number of cars that can get through. And each one loses five minutes out of their days. Five valuable minutes. That’s five minutes they’re late for work. (Well, if you’re driving in Toronto you’re used to how long it takes to get to work and you’ve compensated, but you get my point.) Beyond that, every minute stuck driving through crowded streets in Toronto is… not pleasant. But that’s still not worth a $500 fine, is it? Only five minutes…

But that’s five minutes times what? Two hundred people behind him? Three hundred? We’re talking rush hour here. Let’s be conservative and say two hundred. So a thousand minutes total have been stolen from people’s lives. Fifteen person-hours have been wasted on the roads. Let’s say their average wage is $30 per hour… why don’t we say $33.33 so it all comes out nicely… and that’s a total of $500. I think the new fine would be perfectly appropriate.

Criticism of the idea primarily revolves around enforcement. The law already exists, and people don’t get fined currently, so why would they care about an increased fine? It is just an exercise that makes it look like the councillor is doing something, where in fact he is only blowing hot air. I think part of the problem comes from the fact that many of our laws… and our fines… tend to be years out of date… and they are also not progressive. So although they might keep Starbucks employees from jumping out and getting a coffee, they don’t affect much the owner of the company (who is much more the type to do this). How about a progressive fine: $20 for every $1000 you claimed on your income tax last year? I think all our fines should be like that. It might take a bit more time to process, but once it was set up to work, it would be great.

However, we’re still stuck with that enforcement problem: who would do it? Rob Ford (the mayor of the city) has said that he doesn’t “want” to cut our police force… but he’s also demanding that they reduce their budget, which is mostly salaries and benefits. (Mr. Ford apparently isn’t very good at math… or at logic.) Perhaps if we raised the fine, we might have some extra funds to be able to keep some of those officers? But I doubt Mr. Ford would like my progressive fine idea very much, since he is known to be a terrible offender: at least of driving while using a cell phone. He has (allegedly) been known to give people the finger who disagree with the practise. Then again he’s managed to avoid a ticket for using his cell phone thus far because the “cost to pursue outweighs penalty”. This law against driving and using a cell phone: they apparently don’t enforce it very much, because what they’d get for the fine doesn’t cover the cost of processing.

Maybe they should raise that fine, too. Or make it progressive.

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