Parking in Toronto for Free

Saturday, April 19, 2008 | | 1 comments »

There was an article in today's Toronto Star about printing fraudulent parking receipts from automated parking meters, using expired credit cards. The article, Overhauled meters still can't detect illegal use says that though the problem has been know for over a year, and the city has paid $10 millions dollars or $3,800 for each new meter, the problem still exists.

Scams are only good as long as they are a secret. I have know about this scam for over 3 years and I am sure that others have know about it much longer. I have never actually used it because I hate driving into downtown Toronto and you can never find metered parking. It is just so much easier and cheaper to take public transit, either GO Transit or the TTC. However since the article in the Toronto Star, and the Toronto Sun were written I am sure that more people will try it.

Traditional Parking Meter

These parking meters accepted 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent and later 1 dollar coins. When the coin was dropped in the coin slot and the handle turned a mechanical pointer would indicate the amount of time allowed for parking. Adding more coins moved the pointer further to the right and added more time. With each coin inserted in the slot you would have to turn the handle.

When you ran out of time a red flag went up. Which usually meant that the parking enforcement would come by and give you a ticket.

This meter could be cheated. Certain coins and slugs would buy you time on the meter. The large British 2 pence coin for example would buy a little more than 50 cents worth of time. At that time the 2 pence was equal to 5 cents Canadian.

Digital Parking Meters

The city soon replaced all of the traditional parking meters with digital parking meters. These looked the same except the read out was digital and the coin mechanism could not be cheated with foreign coins or slugs. When you ran out of time a flashing red background was displayed.

Multi-Spot Parking Meters

A few years ago the city installed centralized digital meters. These meters are one for every five parking spots. They accept coins, and credit cards and will print out a parking slip which indicates the amount of time for which you have purchased parking. You place the parking slip face up on your dashboard for parking enforcement.

The problem with these meters was that, the convenience of using credit cards meant that the credit cards would have to be authorized. Since there are no telephone lines running to every parking meter the authorization data is downloaded at the end of the day and the credit card transactions are processed.

With credit cards all the meter does is verify that a credit card was inserted and that the magnetic strip on the back of the card give a valid credit card number. This is done by a digit check. For a Mastercard the prefix is always 51-55, there are 16 digits and the check digit algorithm mod is 10. For Visa the prefix is always 4, there are 13 or 16 digits and the check digit algorithm mod is 10. All credit card readers, websites, use this to make sure that a valid number was inputted. For a transaction to be approved the credit card number must be active on Visa's or Mastercard's computer database.

When the city of Toronto processes its credit card transactions at the end of the day, there were some cards which were invalid. These card numbers were added to a blacklist and uploaded to the parking meters. The parking meters could only hold 1,000 blacklisted cards in memory.

New Multi-Spot Parking Meters

Only 1,000 blacklisted cards could be held on each parking meter and there were more than 1,000 invalid credit cards being used, so Toronto at a cost of $3,800 per meter, totaling $10 million replaced all of the parking meters. The new meters could hold 10,000 blacklisted cards.

The Toronto Star reporter found out there installing new meters that hold 10,000 blacklisted cards is still not enough. There are more than 10,000 blacklisted cards in use and this number is sure to increase. He tried 4 invalid credit cards and the readers accepted them. Even when the readers rejected them after a week a couple of days later they were working again. This would mean that his cards were blacklisted but bumped of the blacklist by invalid cards that were more frequently used.

Toronto already lose $1 million every year to this type of fraud. Overhauling the meters with new meters that work just a little better means that Toronto just wasted $10 million more.

There is a simple solution to this problem. Disable credit card usage at all of the parking meters till telephone lines can be installed to these meters. The city of Calgary already verifies credit cards at its meters in real time. Yes, it would be inconvenient for people to park with they have to look for change but they will do so because the cost of a ticket would be much more.

I believe that the Toronto found out only after someone was caught started selling illegal credit card type parking cards called Europass on the net.

Cards That May Still Work

This is common knowledge now. However using any of these methods are illegal.

Europark Card

These cards are still being sold on the internet through The Canadian website has been shut down and now states `not for sale to Canadian residents.` The operator of this website was charged with credit card fraud.

Visa Gift Cards

These are the most common type of card this is used on Toronto Parking meters. These can be bought in $50-$500 amounts. Once the balance $0 they can still be used in Toronto's parking meters. The Visa number on these cards are the same as the numbers on regular Visa cards. The meters cannot tell the difference and all of the empty Visa gift cards cannot be blacklisted!

Expired Mastercard and Visa Cards

Any expired, old, Mastercard and Visa card will work. However if it was your old card remember that the credit card company might still have your personal information on file.


  1. Anonymous // October 2, 2008 at 2:23 AM  

    Great, comprehensive article. I wonder what else these cards can be used for.