City Informer: How Is “Residents Only” Parking Enforced in Vancouver?

Is someone actually checking? Yes, but it's not who you think.

You’ve circled the block for hours, hunting for a place to abandon your Toyota Tercel so you can finally go to brunch with the boyfriend you’re trying to break up with. You’re weary with hunger and you’ve run out of gruesome pre-breakfast murder podcasts to listen to. Not to get too technical on you, but the gas meter thingie has only two thingies left out of 10 thingies, so you can’t keep driving forever. What if you just left the car in the middle of the road with the hazards on? What court would convict you? Then, you spot it: a Tercel-length space in front of a Vancouver Special with no roof that recently sold for $9 million. But as you cruise up, your heart deflates: it’s designated as “Residents Only.” Looks like you won’t be making it to break-up brunch after all. You go on to marry your boyfriend and live in a loveless union that you regret until the day you die. And it’s all the parking sign’s fault. 

These signs can be found all around the city, particularly in park-and-walk hot spots: near Nat Bailey Stadium, the residential roads in the vicinity of Kits Beach, down by the PNE. “Residents of 2400 Block Only,” they warn. “Violators will be towed.” It’s downright rude, if you ask me: I thought the city  wanted us to build community, but these sorts of signs are only encouraging segregation of neighbourhoods and/or forcing me to pay for parking. Despicable! Well, we the people will not tolerate it: this is how we lose our freedom, and also four to six dollars at the meter! Let us take to the streets! (Can I get a ride?)

While Residents Only signs are ominous, it’s hard to know exactly how they’re monitored. And I personally hate not knowing what I’m up against, because parking, for me at least, is an evaluation of risk and reward; this is how I get my adrenaline rush. What are the odds that someone would come ticket me if I ran in to quickly grab something? (Say, a seat to watch a quick inning of the Canadians vs. the Eugene Emeralds?) It’s a delicious game of cat and mouse I’m playing with the poor meter maid (or meter… butler?)—basically like Killing Eve except I can’t do accents. 

a woman looking out her window with binoculars at cara parking outside
Illustration by Byron Eggenschwiler

But should someone spot my Tercel (a.k.a. “Tercy”) by their curb, I don’t understand how they could know that I’m not one of their neighbour’s new live-in lovers, or a wayward cousin crashing on a couch for a few weeks. Maybe it’s an idle threat, like when Killing Eve sends me a cease-and-desist about my allegedly derivative meter-butler romance novels. Maybe these are actually totally parkable spots just waiting to be filled: resident until proven guilty, I say!

So, I survey the scene: at a glance, none of the cars parked on the block seem to have any identifying features—but I admit I’m not the most observant driver out there (more than once, I have attempted to get into the wrong car). Is there some sort of master Locals Only database, or is this purely a watchdog/honour system situation? 

Determined to find out, I filed a $2-million budget request with my boss for this story so I could buy a condo near Nat Bailey and investigate the issue from the inside. Unfortunately, my proposal was denied with the professional equivalent of “Get bent.” Then I considered doing a stakeout, but, ironically, I couldn’t find anywhere to park. I’d have to get to the bottom of these signs the old-fashioned way: calling 3-1-1 and asking the city clerk to write my story for me. 

And through this incredible detective work, I learned the shocking truth: all Residents Only parking is enforced exclusively via tattletale. If a resident sees an unfamiliar car, they can call and snitch, and parking bylaw officers will check the licence plate’s registration address. Violators, as promised, will be towed. It’s a deeply ineffective system that seems like a real waste of time and money—and, in fact, the city is planning on phasing out this particular type of parking permit in the near future. But, in the meantime, scofflaws may see some intriguing opportunity here. In a given neighbourhood, is there one local resident who’s aggressive enough, attentive enough, to rat you out if you took a chance and parked in a ’hood that wasn’t yours? I’m not a “math guy” or a “suggest in a published article that you break a bylaw guy,” but the risk seems pretty low here (save for in PNE season). And the reward? Park for free enough times, and maybe you’ll one day be able to afford a $9-million roofless Vancouver Special that will make you a real resident after all.