Abandonment issues: Kitchener considers shopping cart bylaw

City would join Guelph, Mississauga and Ottawa in cities that impose fines on retailers for abandoned carts

Lost and stolen shopping carts were a gold mine for Bubbles, the myopic petty criminal in the Trailer Park Boys series.

But they're a public eyesore for John Gazzola, a municipal politician in Kitchener, Ont., who last month introduced a motion calling on city staff to find a solution to the problem.

"This has been a lingering issue in my ward for many years," Gazzola told Canadian Grocer this week from Italy, where he is vacationing. "Streets are often littered with abandoned shopping carts, and it doesn't look very friendly."

Gazzola said councillors from all nine of the other wards in Kitchener supported his motion.

He added that he is aware that several other cities across Ontario have wrestled with the same issue in recent years.

At least three—Guelph, Mississauga and Ottawa—have enacted bylaws that impose fines on retailers for carts that are picked up and impounded by city employees.

In Ottawa, citizens can report abandoned shopping carts in parks or on private property on the city's website.

The bylaw caused a buzz in the nation's capital in early 2014, when the nearly 600 carts that were rounded up in the first 60 days after the bylaw came into effect (netting the city nearly $30,000 in fines) couldn't be retrieved because they were stuck in inches-thick ice in an outdoor city lockup area.

"It's been a screw up from the get go," said Lee Corbin, a property management consultant in Ottawa who retrieves city-impounded shopping carts for several large food stores.

According to Corbin, after a zealous start, city workers no longer pick up abandoned parts. "I don't know why, because you still see abandoned carts lying around," he said. "But the whole issue has just kind of peetered out."

The issue of municipal regulation of shopping carts  continues to outrage retailers, who see bylaws and fines as cash grabs by city governments at best, added punishment for victims of crime at worst.

"Shopping carts are expensive and are valuable property for retailers, whose customers rely on them for convenience," said Dave Wilkes, senior vice president of the Retail Council of Canada, which strongly opposes shopping cart bylaws. "Slapping retailers with fines when people walk off with their carts is like punishing people who have their bike stolen.  It's unfair and it makes no sense."

Wilkes added that municipalities "need to recognize this is a crime (and) work collaboratively with retailers rather than impose regulated solutions."

He also recommends that retailers take measures to minimize the risk of shopping cart thefts.

"There are a range of options available," said Wilkes.  Those options range from coin deposit systems and electronic mechanisms that lock shopping cart brakes when they leave the parking lot to good old fashioned cart round ups by staff.

"Having eyes and hands on the carts is still the best safety measure," said Wilkes.

One Kitchener food store owner said he is against the city getting involved in the shopping cart issue.

"Yes, carts are a bloody nuisance," said Gerald Kara, owner of Kara's Foods, a micro store with a dozen shopping carts, some of which get stolen.

He said shoppers often leave carts in the parking lot to get blown into cars on windy days or simply disappear.

"It's an unfortunate part of the cost of doing business," said Kara.  "But we don't need government to spend millions to find a solution that will end up costing small guys like me more money."

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