By Kim Zarzour
Different rules. Michelle Zaldin and daughter Paige show the parking ticket they received for parking next to the Ohr Menachem Park in Thornhill, because they thought City of Vaughan disabled parking rules were the same as in the City of Toronto.
It’s tough enough going through life with a disability, and trying to find a parking spot when you’re not mobile is just one of many challenges.
That’s why Vaughan resident Michelle Zaldin, whose daughter has cerebral palsy, gets frustrated knowing just a few blocks to the south, in Toronto, she
can park her minivan just about any place.
It seems that the bigger city is prepared to be more generous, she says, when it comes to those who are handicapped.
The Thornhill mom found that out the hard way.
Earlier this summer Ms Zaldin struggled to find a parking spot at the local park. Parking was only permitted on one side of the street and with soccer
games underway, there were no spaces left.
Knowing that south of Steeles Avenue anyone with a disabled permit could park in no-parking zones, and knowing her daughter’s physical limitations, she parked the van on the opposite side of the street.
Not longer after, she discovered a parking ticket tucked onto the windshield.
She assumed it was a mistake; the bylaw officer must have missed seeing the disabled parking permit on her dashboard. She was shocked to learn that what is allowed south of the municipal border is an offence to the north.
Permit holders in Toronto can leave their cars in certain no-parking zones, can leave cars on the street overnight and may park at parking meters without
putting coins in the machine. In most other municipalities, they may park where the blue disabled parking sign is displayed.
Bernice Goldstein, 77, of Thornhill, was also shocked to discover the rules differ.
Ms Goldstein uses a scooter to get around and her husband requires a cane to walk. She says she has been ticketed in York Region because she didn’t realize the rules were more stringent here.
“I wondered how can that be,” Ms Goldstein said. “I think a lot of people don’t know. Once it became GTA we assumed the rules would all be the same.”
Shoshana, a Thornhill mom who asked her full name not be used, was also surprised to learn the rules were different. Her daughter has mobility issues and requires special parking. “I know in Toronto you can pretty much park anywhere with a sticker, and just assumed Vaughan was like Toronto.”
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation issues Accessible Parking Permit but where those permits can be used is decided by the local municipality.
Ron Hamilton, Toronto’s manager of traffic operations, said Metro Toronto decided about 40 years ago that it would be an accessible city and would afford generous exemptions to those who required it. It is the only municipality in Ontario that has provided such exemptions, except for a few very limited exemptions in Ottawa, he said. The problem, said Ms Zaldin, is “there is no sign when you cross Steeles to tell you that the rules have changed.”
“The rules don’t change when you cross Steeles,” counters local Councillor Alan Shefman. “Toronto has their rules and we have ours.”
While the City of Vaughan staff are sympathetic to the issue, he said there are also major concerns with abuse of parking stickers.
“It’s out of control. I watch when people drive in and park there and so many take advantage of it.
“I think there has to be a balance here. Absolutely we want to try to give easy access to people disability issues but at the same time we want to protect
people and there are safety issues.”
He points out that parking around local parks is restricted to protect children who may be playing in the vicinity.
“Safety issues? That’s ludicrous,” said Ms Zaldin. “We’re not talking guns and gangs… We’re talking about disabled people in cars. That’s just laughable.
“I understand the stickers are abused. I’ve seen it. But you have to give people the benefit of the doubt… People will abuse stuff anywhere. The good
has to outweigh the bad.”
While the ticket she received this summer is only for $35, Ms Zaldin plans to fight it. Her six-year-old daughter, who has leg braces and occasionally
requires a wheelchair, is supporting the battle because she wants to support her friends who have even greater mobility challenges than she does.
Mr. Shefman said he may have an answer.
“Going forward, maybe the solution is to build into some of these parks a small space for disabled parking.”