Edmonton plans to unveil licence plate cameras to catch drivers who don’t pay for parking

There will soon be a new system to keep drivers in check if their vehicle is in a paid parking spot. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

The City of Edmonton will soon use cameras to keep drivers accountable and take pictures of licence plates in paid parking spots to determine if motorists have paid.

The city is testing out a system this month and Erin Blaine, coordinator for parking services, said the aim is to have a decision on a vendor in January 2018, with the new system in place by April 2018. Most paid parking in the city is focused in the Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue areas.

A similar system already exists in Calgary, but there are still many unknowns about the system Edmonton will use.

There will be cameras on five roving vehicles and cameras will be installed in city parkades to capture licence plate information and check it against an interface that determines whether the driver has paid or not for the parking space. Right now, drivers must input their licence plate information and pay for parking at ePark machines. Violations are currently determined by workers on foot.

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READ MORE: Machine errors account for 40% of EPark issues in Edmonton

Blaine said the licence plate information will be deleted if it is determined there has been payment, but it isn’t clear how long the city will hold onto the data before it is purged. If there has not been payment, that information must be kept to issue a ticket.

Blaine said the length of time before deleting that data has not yet been determined and adds the city is working with lawyers and Freedom of Information coordinators.

She also said the information would be kept under FOIP privacy rules and, at this time, there is no reason to be sharing that data with other agencies, such as Edmonton Police Service.

“I can’t really speak to that process because we are still learning as we go. However, it all has to do with FOIP and then between whatever agencies are doing it. That’s not what we’re looking to do at this time,” she said.

READ MORE: Calgary residents concerned parking proposal could violate privacy

A privacy plan for the licence plate cameras as in effect, she said. Recent hacks, like with Uber, have brought privacy concerns for personal information to the forefront.

Blaine responded by saying the city will be “100 per cent” vigilant with the data.

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“We are working with the law branch and with the FOIP coordinator to ensure everything is highly secure,” she said.

Drivers may be wondering what reprieves the city may give in certain situations, like if they idle for a couple minutes in a paid parking spot and do not pay.

“The intent is to make sure those who are parked at their vehicle, parking there for some time, are paying,” Blaine said. “Not for those who are dropping off a passenger or stopping for a minute to text. We will definitely have some type of grace.”

She adds that the technology is there to take side photos of a vehicle and flag a vehicle if there is someone sitting inside.

“We would be able to determine if someone is sitting in the vehicle, as opposed to an empty vehicle, but cameras are not able to capture faces or anything like that,” Blaine said.

Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel said he does not have privacy concerns about the program.

“If it’s restricted to just that purpose and it’s not shared with the police, then I don’t see a problem,” he said.

“If they’re not authorized to share the information with someone else, they better not share it.”

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Calgary lawyer Brian Edy is not opposed to the system.

“It seems to work in Calgary and it is cutting down on having an individual person do much the same thing,” he said.

Edy said the system is “not a major privacy issue” and said if people are uncomfortable with photos being taken of their licence plates, they can either park their vehicle in a private lot or park in an area that does not require meter parking.

The Calgary lawyer said he would want the city to confirm the data would only be used for purposes of parking and not data mining or other purposes that have not been declared. And he hopes the city would purge the information as soon as possible.

“If people have paid for parking and the licence plate is read and confirmed parking has been paid for, the information could be deleted very soon thereafter because it’s not relevant to be kept,” Edy said.

In a situation where parking has not been paid for, Edy expects that the information would need to be kept until either a guilty plea has been entered into the system, the individual has paid the fine or the court proceedings have been built with, adding information about the alleged parking infraction would be required if the driver wishes to dispute it.

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“There would be a reasonable period of time after that where they would delete the names from the system once they either go to court or are found guilty,” he said.

There are approximately 6,000 paid parking spots in the city.

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