Confessions of a parking ticket fugitive

How I was thwarted again by Montreal parking!

My car was stolen. 

I stood in the spot where my car had been, wondering how I would get to the West Island in time for brunch (behold, the most insufferable phrase I’ve ever written).  But wait—what was that just down the street? My car gleamed on the horizon, parked on Saint-Laurent as if it had been dropped down by a spaceship that got bored of the abduction mission. So it had been towed! And charged $186 for the honour—happy Thursday to me.

But why? The signs said I could be in my spot until Friday—or so I thought. New rules had changed the game overnight in the form of bright orange signs that had seemingly spawned out of nowhere and announced, “Gotcha!” Just the latest addition to a saga of suffering. Anyone who has ever tried to park, let alone drive in the city, will tell you that it verges on impossible. And who is to blame for all these problems? My arch nemesis: the Montreal parking police. 

The case of me versus the MPP (an acronym that I just made up) has been an ongoing battle, defined by endless tactics of evasion followed by endless consequences. Many a brain cell has withered away as I have attempted to decipher parking signs in my search for salvation. Can you blame me for always parking where I shouldn’t? The signs are written in an extraterrestrial dialect and resemble a cruel Terms & Conditions Agreement. You may occupy this spot, Earthling, but only on the full moon that lands on a Tuesday, and only if you drive a red Honda. 

I would cruise around for up to an hour sometimes, searching for a spot like a hawk preying on mice. I felt like a fugitive of the law on these mornings spent outrunning the parking police, my Tracy Chapman CD as the soundtrack to my smooth escapades. If you ask me, there’s a certain romantic tension between me and the MPP. An enemies-to-lovers trope, some might say. 

It’s all fun and games until reality bites though. I have been informed by numerous parties that you actually have to pay parking tickets. What do you mean I can’t just use them as lightly-humorous wall decor? My parking ticket art installation is only just getting started. This is almost as shocking as the time my friend hit me with a stern “you know, Emma, you actually do need to pay your taxes.” Just like my days of tax-evading were brought to a bitter end, the law will catch up to me again. 

But let’s have a moment of seriousness—who’s actually in the right? This time I can argue that they did me dirty (my roommate later told me she had seen them putting up the new orange signs at dawn, those sneaks), but all the other times…I’ll admit where I’m wrong. Montreal parking is a royal pain, but maybe parking shouldn’t be easy—that will incentivize fewer people to drive cars. (I really am anti-car, I swear. Up until last year I swore that I would bike everywhere for the rest of my life. Well, I folded. When your family lives in freaking Ste-Agathe, you do what you gotta do.) 

I suppose I really could just ditch the car, though, or learn the language of parking signs. But where’s the fun in that? Maybe I like the thrill of the chase. 


The dangers of driving in Montreal

Recent pedestrian fatalities have sparked a conversation about safe driving in the city

Foot over the brake, eyes in constant motion, and a fear of the unknown. This is my daily state while driving to Concordia’s Loyola campus along Sherbrooke St. where pedestrians, cyclists, buses and other motorists roam freely, regardless of traffic rules. A recipe for a much-too-common disaster.

An 87-year-old woman died after being hit by a truck on St-Roch St. last Tuesday according to CTV news. The city is urgently seeking solutions to this ongoing problem.

Between Sept. 7 and 12, five pedestrians were struck by drivers in Montreal. Police spokesperson André Durocher suggested to CBC that distractions caused by phone screens may be the reason for the accidents. According to CBC, a common denominator found in recent years indicates that trucks turning a corner is the main cause of cyclist and pedestrian accidents.

I find the synchronisation of pedestrian and motorist lights to be inefficient in Montreal. The driver’s light often turns green once the red hand and countdown begin for pedestrians. This situation causes the pedestrian and the motorist to both be engaged. The pedestrian does have the priority in this case, yet this allows the driver to turn even if a pedestrian is crossing. When rounding a corner, a distracted driver might not see an incoming pedestrian. My roommate recalled a time when a driver cut her off while crossing the road; I recall a time I’ve cut off a pedestrian—by accident, of course.

In my experience, a pedestrian will often cross when only a few seconds remain. Those moments are the last seconds a motorist has to turn when the light is yellow before blocking oncoming traffic. As such, drivers will often accelerate as a pedestrian may begin to dash through the intersection, which can cause a collision. Drivers have the responsibility to prioritize pedestrians, yet pedestrians must still have the common sense to only cross when sufficient time remains.

Traffic is a very important factor in pedestrian accidents, which is mostly caused by Montreal’s never-ending construction, which takes drivers on endless detours. Motorists become impatient, and their driving becomes reckless, especially during rush hour.

In fact, an analysis by the Montreal Gazette showed that from 2006 to 2011, the majority of pedestrian accidents happened at 8 a.m or 5 p.m. This indicates drivers are rushed to get to work on time or are impatient to get home, which impacts their driving.

I believe a motorist has the responsibility to ensure their safety and those of others, regardless of their state of mind. After all, it is not the pedestrian’s fault the motorist didn’t wake up on time. I believe wider roads may also help with reducing traffic and increasing construction.

I’m from a small town and learned how to drive there. Now, I drive in Montreal and that transition was huge. Statistics Canada recorded a total of 8.4 million registered vehicles in Quebec in 2017, which has a population of 8.1 million. Montreal has a population of 1.7 million. Based on the statistics in Montreal alone, at least one million motorists are on the road daily––a huge change from a small town.

A prevention campaign Vision Zéro, that was created in 2017, aims to reduce the number of motor accidents by producing awareness videos and implementing security measures. The measures include installing priority lights for cyclists and a pilot project implementing more four-way traffic stops.

“Education alone is rarely effective in reducing traffic accidents,’’ Marie-Soleil Cloutier, a road security expert with the INRS research university, told CTV news. She suggested changes in infrastructure, such as speed bumps, curb extensions and adjustments to light timing will have a real impact. Generally improving road conditions would improve driving; having to contour potholes every few metres doesn’t allow for ‘’smooth driving.’’ To reduce accidents, drivers and pedestrians must collaborate to make the streets of Montreal safer—for everyone.

Archive graphic by Zeze Le Lin



Technological advances for Uber aren’t enough

Drivers should be more interested in keeping passengers safe and comfortable

There’s a reason why Montrealers have been using more Ubers than taxis in recent years. The Uber app makes it easier for users and drivers to find each other, because their locations are shared through the app.

According to documents obtained by Le Journal de Montréal on March 23, the number of cab drivers filing for bankruptcy in Quebec has tripled since the arrival of Uber in 2014. I believe it’s due to taxis’ lack of accessibility. In the city, people can catch a cab driving down a street or hop into one in a designated waiting area. However, once you’re in a residential area, you have to call a cab company, because the odds of seeing a free cab passing by are unlikely. So, people turn to Ubers.

Waiting for an empty cab to drive down a busy street is something people want to avoid nowadays. Think about it—we have reached a point where we are used to finding the things we need in almost no time, thanks to our smartphones. I believe cab companies should hop on the technology train—or should I say Uber train—to stay accessible. The fact that people can split the fare of their ride is an added plus for Ubers. Although some taxi companies, such as Diamond Taxi, have location and prepaid services, I believe all taxi companies should advertise for it more.

All these technological advances in Ubers, like the location access, the direct payment and the option to split fares, make it an efficient application. However, Uber drivers can be and are often less experienced compared to taxi drivers. Both types of drivers go through a similar vetting process. Both are required to hold a Class C4 driver’s license, speak and read French and have no criminal record. However, Uber drivers only have eight online modules of training compared to the 150 hours of mandatory training Montreal taxi drivers have to go through. Taxi drivers’ training covers 53 hours of taxi transport regulations, 50 hours of geography and topography training and seven hours of training for transportation of a disabled person.

While I take Ubers due to their easy access, almost every Uber driver I ride with has harshly swerved on turns or ran red lights. Sometimes, they’ve made illegal turns. In other words, their “driving etiquette” isn’t perfect. I believe these drivers need a lot more training. On multiple occasions, I have had to change my destination to a closer one and get out of an Uber earlier because of reckless driving. This lack of professionalism has made me feel unsafe in Ubers.

To be fair, many Uber drivers have the “entertainment” aspect down in their cars. Some offer water bottles, phone chargers, and many have an AUX cord at their disposal for their passengers to blast their own music during the ride. In other cases, they are more interested in starting conversations and playing music than focusing on the road. While these additions are nice perks, I don’t believe they are a priority.

When an Uber ride begins, the GPS automatically creates a route, which often seems to take detours that make the ride longer than it should be. According to an Uber customer service agent, “If you have a specific route in mind, you can always request that your driver follow those directions.” Yet, when I ask the driver to follow my directions, I am either ignored or even told, “No, you don’t know how to get there.” Most of the times my destination is my own home, and these detours result in a more expensive ride.

Ultimately, neither taxis nor Ubers are perfect, but taxi companies should take advantage of the technology available in today’s world to make their service accessible to more people. As for Uber, their drivers need to have more extensive training to make sure their passengers are more comfortable during the ride.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Opinions: The curious case of texting and driving

A growing problem in the so-called ‘smart phone era’ is the presence of mobile devices in vehicles. Despite hands free technology, texting and driving is becoming exceedingly difficult to curb. Year after year, statistics keep growing as police give away tickets, with over 21,000 tickets given out in 2012 alone for using a cellphone while driving.

“Distracted driving has always been a major factor in collisions, but it’s been a result of electronic technology that has really brought it to the forefront,” Ontario Provincial Police, Sgt., Pierre Chamberland, told CBC.

The current penalty in Quebec is a ticket ranging from $115 to $154 and three demerit points,a penalty fairly similar to the one for speeding or burning a red light. However, considering the danger it poses, authorities are beginning to question whether or not the penalty should be more severe.

Every province has put laws into place against handheld devices in vehicles. The problem is more severe than ever, with collisions due to texting and driving going up by 17 per cent between 2006 and 2010, according to Statistics Canada. In Nova Scotia, it is officially the primary cause of death while manipulating a vehicle, surpassing driving under the influence.

The statistics clearly show that more needs to be done to address this major issue on our roads. Our society is becoming more demanding, and people’s stress levels are skyrocketing. When you combine people’s hectic lifestyles with the fact that technology allows us to conduct most of our business on our phones, it becomes evident that it won’t be an easy task.

“There are different ways you can be distracted, either visually, manually or cognitively,” Christine Yager, a researcher for Texas A&M University, told CBC on May 30. Yager conducted research to measure the dangers of texting and driving by having a group of people drive a closed course without cellphone use at first, and then with a series of texting exercises. The results were crystal clear.
“No matter which texting method was used on the cellphone, the response times were approximately two times slower than the no texting condition,” said Yager.

Stricter laws are in desperate need here, at least for a start. Take the state of New York as an example. If you are caught texting and driving in the Empire State, your license will automatically be revoked for a period of 60 days, and for a period of six months for repeat offenders. That’s taking the long claw of the law and using it to your advantage. Although it may seem harsh, perhaps even cruel, it’s a penalty severe enough to actually have positive effects on this problem.

Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who signed the legislation into law, told WRVO Public Media that,“those two, three, four, five seconds that you look down to answer the text, that period of inattention is all the time in the world.”

The governor is right. To have the ability to drive is to have a responsibility for your safety and the safety of others. Ultimately, banning cellphones entirely may be the only valid solution to a problem that is this consistent.


When I was your age, cars didn’t even exist

In Sudbury, Ont., a new anonymous hotline will potentially be implemented in order for residents to be able to report seniors they think shouldn’t be on the road anymore.

The new anonymous phone line has been designed to warn officers about seniors which the caller considers unfit to drive. According to the task force, it was apparently created in order to protect seniors.

That may be the case, but let’s delve deeper into the problem here. The Ministry of Transport of Ontario’s most recent Road Safety Annual Report from 2008 includes information on the number of collisions, fatal or otherwise.

One section called “Occurrence of Driver Condition in Drivers Killed,” we can see only three criteria that might be applicable to the case of seniors. The criteria, such as use of impairing drugs, fatigue, and medical/physical disability, put together make for 6.1 per cent of all drivers implicated in an accident.

In the section on “Driver Age by Driver Condition in all Collisions,” it is shown that most accidents are not due to seniors. In fact, according to the data, it would be wiser to assess the driving abilities of 21-year-olds.

The report goes on to state that the age group 75 and older account for roughly three to five per cent of the total number of accidents. So if the number of accidents for this age group is not as big a concern as in other groups, what made the police consider this ridiculous idea?

Another reason might be the frequency and quality of the assessment of a senior’s driving ability. However, senior drivers fill out medical forms quite often. The medical examination form is filled out for different reasons, such as a change of driver’s licence, change in health status and/or age group and treatment or prescriptions taken. But there is a reason why this medical examination form is called medical: it needs a trained health professional to assess it.

And, after all, the police task affirms that the first measure taken after receiving the call would be to check its validity by requiring the expert’s opinion.

So what is the main purpose of this measure if its implementation would not drastically reduce the incidence of accidents? It just adds an anonymous intermediate, with an unknown qualification, where every single piece of information would have to be checked. Needless to say, this sounds expensive and useless.

Having a phone call made from an anonymous person is absolutely pointless. Seniors are those who produce one of the least elevated number of accidents and they are the group most frequently checked by a physician.

And after all, by definition this action could be called discrimination by age. Have they considered installing such a phone line in a hospital or at a local CLSC, for example? I think the seniors would be more grateful to receive a quick medical assessment instead of a convocation for a medical exam to determine their driving fitness.

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan


New St-Jacques St. exit ramp raises concerns

Shuttle buses use the St-Jacques exit ramp to ferry students between ConU’s two campuses. Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The newly reopened St-Jacques exit ramp off the westbound Ville-Marie Expressway , which is extremely curvy and potentially dangerous, is raising concerns for Concordia University’s students and staff.

“You enter the ramp quite violently when you’re doing 70 kilometres or more on the highway so it’s scary when you see that curve,” said Mathew Pizzanelli, a Concordia student who uses the ramp to get to the Loyola campus. “Suddenly you realize that you have to reduce your speed significantly.”

The St-Jacques St. exit reopened in late August after its reconstruction to make way for a vehicle entrance for the McGill University Health Centre super hospital, which is in the process of being built. The exit has been closed since February.

According to an article published in The Gazette, the new ramp is not a typical loop normally used for exit ramps but a reverse curve which forces drivers to take a steep right, a steep left followed by another right.

Concordia University’s shuttle bus service that transports students from the downtown campus to the Loyola campus in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce uses this exit daily. According to university spokesperson Chris Mota, Concordia has not received complaints from students or bus drivers about the new ramp, although shuttle bus driver Vince Torchia immediately noticed the potential dangers of driving too fast.

“It’s a big difference from the old one,” said Torchia. “As soon as you get there you really, really have to slow down or you can hit the wall.”

Yet, the main purpose of the ramp is to force cars merging onto St-Jacques St. to reduce their speed.

“It was a request by the City of Montreal,” said Caroline Larose, spokesperson for Transport Québec. “They wanted drivers to slow down before entering a residential area.”

While it is understandable that the city would want vehicles to slow down, Luis Amador, a Concordia University civil engineering assistant professor, believes this is an inappropriate measure.

“What do you do when you’re back on a street that is straight, if these curves have forced you to slow down? You will accelerate again, so it’s not going to help,” said Amador. “If they want vehicles to slow down on St-Jacques, they need to bring proper measures on St-Jacques.”

Amador suggested placing little poles or markers on the side of the road to give drivers the sensation of going faster than they actually are and said widening the sidewalks to produce more narrow lanes will force drivers to slow down when approaching the intersection.

He also explained that drivers only have about six seconds from the time they see the 45 kilometre speed limit sign that also indicates a curve. It then takes about three seconds to react.

“You see the sign indicating 45, you decide to slow down, you take the foot off the gas, and three seconds after you are on the curve,” said Amador.

This becomes more of a problem when drivers may miss the road signs due to poor visibility because of blowing snow, hail or fog. However, Amador emphasizes that the ramp is still under construction and more signs may be added.

Transport Québec hasn’t reported any accidents, though it’s been open for two months and typically accidents are looked at over a three-year period.

Amador advised caution to all drivers, including the Concordia shuttle bus, and encouraged those taking the ramp to fully follow the curves.


What goes up, must come down, right?

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Last week, I finally got around to getting my new Opus card since I didn’t want to use my car as much anymore.

I did so, not because I suddenly felt the urge to be more environmentally responsible or felt that public transportation was better than driving, but rather because of gas prices.

Gas prices have shot up to $1.53 a litre on Sept. 12—a jump of 13 cents overnight. They have dropped since then, but still remain quite high, much to the dismay of Montreal drivers.

The reasons behind the erratic cost of gas changing day to day, however, remain a mystery for many.

Harjeet Bhabra is an associate professor at the John Molson School of Business. His principal fields of study are corporate finance and investments.

According to Bhabra, there are two major factors contributing to high gas prices: one direct cause—events in and around the US; and one indirect cause—unrest in the Middle East.

“Ten days ago, we had this huge hurricane [in the Gulf Coast], and what it typically does is force companies in the area to shut down and move people off the platforms of refineries,” said Bhabra. “There is then a production loss and so less available in the market.”

Supply and demand is the basis for the day-to-day behaviour of gas prices. The cost goes up when the demand strains the supply available worldwide. According to Bhabra, the need for gas in Canada and the US has increased in the last 10 to 20 years, and so has demand in China. Prices will, therefore, inevitably rise as a result.

But the traditional rules of supply and demand don’t work as they should during a time of uprising. In the Middle East, the unrest has affected many nations, and has successfully toppled dictatorial governments.

“Many of these nations are suppliers of crude oil to the rest of the world,” said Bhabra. “If anything happens over there, it directly affects the price of crude oil worldwide.”

Bhabra pointed out that in a scenario such as this one, the anticipation of a lack of supply is sufficient to raise the price. Since the market is uncertain if the supply will last or not, they raise the prices pre-emptively to counter possible future losses.

For example, the current overarching situation in the Middle East is the potential war between Israel and Iran. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly advertises his country’s advancing nuclear program, declaring they won’t back down on their nuclear energy source project.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed American voters on NBC, dissuading them from voting for President Barack Obama. Netanyahu said he wants the support of an American government willing to attack Iran and Obama won’t do that.

It is important to remember that Iran controls the Strait of Hormuz — a narrow yet important waterway through which 40 per cent of the world’s total traded crude oil passes through every day.

A tactical initiative of the Iranian government has been the threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz. Recent heightened tensions have worried investors of that threat coming true, consequently raising the price of crude oil and with it, the price of gas. Therefore, the political landscape of the Middle East has contributed indirectly to the increase in gas prices.

Quebec citizens have to deal with an even larger burden than the rest of Canada when it comes to gas. Our taxes on gas are the highest in the country, and account for 50 cents a litre. Montreal consumers pay an added three cents a litre as a regional surtax going towards public transit. One-third of the price of our gas at the pump is actually taxes. Just dandy.

There are many factors that can alter the price of gas, some more easily discernible than others. Like a society, crude oil fluctuates not only because of events such as closed refineries, it will also change depending on public opinion.

Speculation about the future, including in the Middle East, has a direct impact on the price of gas Montreal citizens will pay at the pump. With the way events are unfolding in the Middle East, a gas price under $1.20 is most likely not in the cards. In the meantime, we have the wonderful public transit system. I suggest we get used to it.

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