How much does a Toronto fire hydrant earn in parking tickets?

by on August 16, 2014 at 1:15 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

…as it turns out, some hydrants seem to be more tempting — and more costly — than others.

In Toronto, one hydrant stands above the rest. People are fined so often for parking in front of it that on Google’s Street View, a white Toyota can be seen with a yellow slip under its wiper blade as a parking-enforcement officer walks away.

Since 2008, cars that parked too close to the hydrant at 393 University Ave. have been ticketed 2,962 times. Those fines add up to $289,620 —more than any other hydrant in the city.

More generally:

A Canadian Press analysis of Toronto’s parking-ticket data found the city has collected more than $24 million since 2008 by fining people who parked too close to hydrants.

Fabrizi says all parking fines, including those from parking next to hydrants, add up to $80 million a year.

That may seem like a big number, but Fabrizi says it only represents about one per cent of the money needed to run all of the city’s programs.

“The amount of revenue that parking generates is so minuscule compared to the overall revenue that it really doesn’t serve a great purpose as a revenue generator.”

About half the revenue from parking tickets pays for parking enforcement and operations, he added.

The full article, which also lists the ten most lucrative Toronto hydrants, is here.  For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

1 Zach S August 16, 2014 at 3:47 am

Ha pretty unique topic that nobody really thinks about. It’d be interesting to see more statistics for this kind of stuff.

2 ChrisA August 16, 2014 at 5:01 am

So the revenue from parking tickets is “only” twice the cost of the parking enforcement department, sounds a pretty good margin to me. If this were really about securing access to fire hydrants this data would be used to identify the highest priority hydrants to improve markings warning people not to park near them.

3 Jan August 16, 2014 at 7:37 am

Fire hydrants are obvious. What more can you do besides painting them red/yellow and (often) putting signs near them? People usually park near hydrants because they feel ok taking the risk of getting a ticket, not because they don’t notice them.

I think ticketing really is about “securing access to fire hydrants.” There are so many of them, and which ones the city will need to access at any given time is so unpredictable, that the only way to get people to usually not park by them is to ticket the hell out of violators. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a reliable but minor revenue generator as well.

4 ZZZ August 16, 2014 at 8:08 am

Usually it’s due to poor curb marking or a oddly placed hydrant or both. There was one hydrant I read about as the most ticketed in NYC and it was separated from the street parking by a 10ft bike lane and the parking spot directly in front of it was not marked as no parking. I think a reasonable person would think it was a legal parking spot. Any hydrant in a city which is multiple standard deviations above the average in ticket revenue is likely to be as poorly marked as the one in NYC.

5 chuck martel August 16, 2014 at 8:52 am

The color of fire hydrants doesn’t have anything to do with making them noticeable. It indicates the amount of water the hydrant is capable of producing, red hydrants put out less than 500 gallons a minute, orange ones up to 999 gpm.

6 Jan August 16, 2014 at 10:13 am

That makes a lot of sense as a color coding scheme, but isn’t the whole point of using bold colors so they stand out and firefighters can make quick decisions about suitable water sources? If they weren’t designed to be noticeable (to firefighters and others), why wouldn’t cities downplay such ugly things by making them gray and black instead of bright colors?

7 chuck martel August 16, 2014 at 11:06 am

No, the colors are meant for the use of fire personnel who need to know the volume of water available in order to size hoses, etc. Naturally they’re not going to be painted in camouflage colors, they’re not attempting to hide them. In northern climes hydrants are also identified with rods that reveal their position in spite of snow cover, although property owners are generally required to remove the snow around them.

8 Slocum August 16, 2014 at 10:09 am

Seriously? Did you look at the photo? The hydrant is probably 25 feet off the street, could easily be overlooked by a driver (or even obscured by pedestrians on the sidewalk in between) and there are no signs or markings on the street or curb to indicate that parking is prohibited. If the city was concerned about fire safety, they would clearly mark the no-parking area. But if they were trying to write as many tickets as possible, they’d do exactly what they’re doing now to mark the prohibited area….nothing.

9 Jan August 16, 2014 at 10:19 am

I am talking ticketing near fire hydrants in general. These are certainly some annoyingly placed ones and should have additional curb marking or something–they still need to preserve street access to those awkwardly placed hydrants. My point was just that cities don’t design fire hydrant ticketing schemes just to make money; it is to get people not to block them.

You really think there is some overarching, nefarious scheme to intentionally avoid marking hydrants in order to make more money? If evidence came out proving the city was intentionally NOT marking a hydrant and compromising that would be a big deal.

10 Jan August 16, 2014 at 10:20 am

compromising safety, that is.

11 Dude August 16, 2014 at 11:14 am

It would seem the incentives of the parking enforcement group would not be to reduce tickets (via data analysis and hydrant/no parking display). Not necessarily a “nefarious scheme”, just the normal “people respond to incentives” thing.

12 Thomas August 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I was once ticketed for “disregarding a highway sign” because I turned right on red at an intersection with a “no right on red” sign that was hardly noticeable. I decided to go to the court instead of simply pay the fine. Prior to my court date I did a small amount of research and found a law or regulation of some type which stated that traffic (and similar) signs should not be for the primary purpose of generating income.

When I arrived at the courthouse and checked the docket, approximately 90% of the 50 people in traffic court that day were there for the same offense at the same intersection as I was. When I informed the Judge that the sign was hardly noticeable, he asked if I had any proof. I said “almost everyone here is here for the same exact offense.” He requested that people in the courtroom for the same offense raise their hands, and the air above the seated offenders was suddenly full of hands. He decided that he wouldn’t charge us court costs but would require the fine to be paid, because the law is the law. I asked the officer if he had ever reported the intersection with the sign so problematic that it earned him 45 tickets in two days. His response: “No”.

Jan, you should realize that “the government” is a collective of employees, some (most? all?) of whom are disinclined to internalize the cost of public safety.

13 TMC August 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm

“You really think there is some overarching, nefarious scheme to ….. make more money?”

Not like they’d make the yellow light shorter after a red light camera is put in either. Oh wait…

14 Fred August 16, 2014 at 8:41 am

What are the statistics of the number of fires since 2008 in which access to a fire hydrant was blocked by a parked car. How many times has this $289K revenue generator been used to fight fires?

15 Cliff August 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I don’t think access to a fire hydrant has ever been blocked by a car. They just go through the windows

16 Fred August 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm

That’s why the lay the hose across the car, which I have seen once. Going through the windows would be illegal. But maybe Canada is different.

17 TMC August 16, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I’ve seen a pic of the hose going through the window. Didn’t have too much pity for the owner, as he was blocking the hydrant. But in this case, the hydrant is 25 or 30 feet in from the curb, the car couldn’t be blocking anything. A ticket is ridiculous.

18 mulp August 16, 2014 at 6:16 pm

“revenue from parking tickets is “only” twice the cost”

No, its only $30 million over the $50 million cost which would still be $50 million if no one parked in front of any hydrant and cut the revenue from parking violations by 1.45%.

The article distorted the data by reporting total fines for a single year while totally the hydrant fines over about 5 years because the $1.2 million (1.45% times $80 million) last year was not very big.

According to CTV news, the fine was hiked from $30 to $100 in 2008, so that’s the reason for the use of 2008 as the baseline.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-fire-hydrant-a-290-000-cash-cow-1.1954334

Further, the CTV article shows the hydrant as of Aug 2014 and the curb is definitely red and from the looks of it, the google photo places the car in front of the curb that is red a year later, so its not clear the curb is NOT marked red in 2013. Looking further, this video suggests the curb was painted red after the google photo was taken – maybe he took it to court and won and the city painted the curb red.
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/08/11/this_fire_hydrant_costs_toronto_drivers_the_most_in_parking_tickets.html

19 prior_approval August 16, 2014 at 5:31 am

The picture in the article is outrageous – Toronto could have easily put in an extra traffic lane, instead of the wasted bike/pedestrian space.

20 Nylund August 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

Toronto is a very dense and walkable city with a lot of pedestrians. During rush hour when millions of people are walking to and from street car stops and subway stations, even those wide sidewalks can get pretty packed. I’m not sure if that’s entirely true with this particular sidewalk (but it is true just a block or two away). Furthermore, that street already has 4 lanes in each direction (for a total of 8). Also, since parallel parking is the only type of parking that would work on a street of that nature, adding another lane wouldn’t increase the amount of parking. The amount of curb wouldn’t change. It’d only change where that curb is located. Maybe you believe that traffic is bad enough that there should be five lanes in each direction, but that’s an issue distinct from the hydrant topic.

I’d say the confusing aspect of that hydrant is how far it is from the curb. If you’re only looking for curbside hydrants, you might overlook it. Even if you did see it, you may think its too far from the curb to effect parking, especially since the curb is not painted. (I forget if they paint curbs in Toronto like they do in the US.)

21 mulp August 16, 2014 at 6:33 pm

As of August 7 at least, the curb is painted red, and scrubbed by tires multiple times.

22 Oakchair August 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Yes because encouraging healthy behavior and non pollution emitting methods of transportation is total a waste…

23 Dan Weber August 16, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Cool, one troll caught another!

24 mulp August 16, 2014 at 6:31 pm

The reason for the building setback is to provide air space to provide skylight – if the buildings are shorter, they can be set back less.

Having five lanes of traffic, which is all local given it is a city street, means traffic gets tied up with cars trying to change lanes to make turns or park. More lanes means more cars per light change, but only if the cars can move when the light is green into the next block. If someone has to wait for traffic in several lanes to clear to change lanes, extra lanes don’t help.

25 Michael Nielsen August 16, 2014 at 6:52 am

A better image, showing not just one car with a ticket, but 2 cars with tickets, a police officer walking away, and the hydrant:

https://twitter.com/michael_nielsen/status/500595301733122048

(Obviously, I’m procrastinating getting going this morning…)

26 Slocum August 16, 2014 at 7:27 am

Now that’s quite a parking fine trap — how far away from the street does a hydrant have to be before it’s no longer ‘on the street’? I wonder what the city would do if a citizen or two went around and painted the curbs yellow in these lucrative areas? How fast do you think the city get out and scrub off the paint?

27 andrew' August 16, 2014 at 7:38 am

Are they likewise under or over installing or misplacing hydrants? Sourcing revenues from from fines seems good but has anyone solved the perverse incentives?

28 ThomasH August 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Parking/traffic enforcement is not supposed to generate revenue; ideally there would never be any infractions. Its role is to minimize the externalities of multiple vehicles using public streets.

29 seth August 16, 2014 at 12:40 pm

An analysis of similar data in NYC by an enterprising blogger led to the municipal government to spare motorists from the highest-revenue hydrant in the system. (Or at least, to make things fairer.)

http://iquantny.tumblr.com/post/87573867759/success-how-nyc-open-data-and-reddit-saved-new-yorkers

30 Nathan W August 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

An interesting comparable statistics is that the entire expenses of all bodies of the UN are in the same range of expenditures (depending how you count them) than the city of Toronto.

This is a statistics I like to point to when people try to claim that the UN is some inefficient behemoth bent on taking over the world or turning it into some socialist totalitarian world government. Meanwhile, those overpaid posts? Equivalent to what an experienced accountant might expect to earn.

31 Thomas August 16, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Has the Krugman Cost of Regulation argument caught on so quickly? Meanwhile, accountants learn that with some experience, they “might expect to earn” a top 2% household income based solely on their W-2 wages. On the other hand, both of these statements seem to be 1%ers – on the BS scale.

32 x August 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Why would it be illegal to park on the street where the fire hydrant is on the sidewalk???

Hopefully the head of the local police is arrested and jailed for a long time for its rampant theft against citizens.

33 mulp August 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Yeah, putting hydrants in the middle of the street makes them far more accessible to fire trucks, and provides the city with a big revenue source from fines and repair costs from drivers knocking them over, plus the taxes on the auto repairs to the idiot drivers who hit the hydrants in the street.

34 Alexei Sadeski August 16, 2014 at 7:14 pm

“That may seem like a big number, but Fabrizi says it only represents about one per cent of the money needed to run all of the city’s programs.”

“Only”!

35 byomtov August 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

So, why is this one particular hydrant such a cash cow for the city? There are a few possible explanations…

Yet, one of the best explanations is omitted. There has to be some hydrant that generates the most revenue, and this one is it, by chance.

36 Scott August 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I work about 200m from this this fire hydrant and it is a huge anomaly. The hydrant is about 10m back from the curb-side and it makes no sense why the law still applies to it.

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