Bearing brunt of bad drivers' ire

LORNA MARSH Reviled as ticket-happy tyrants, parking attendants are not the most cherished of public workers.

LORNA MARSH

Reviled as ticket-happy tyrants, parking attendants are not the most cherished of public workers.

But while they are seen as petty money-grabbers who gleefully issue penalty notices merely to rile an already put-upon public, it is more often attendants themselves who are at the sharp end of the suffering.

Going out on the beat with one of the Norwich crew is an eye-opener in itself. Alan Edwards, who in a more popular role is also one of the organisers of the Norwich Beer Festival, has been patrolling the city for six years and is now a parking attendant team leader.

He says he loves it but the tales of abuse are shocking. Three recent court cases nationally highlighted the levels of intimidation that many attendants have to go through. It is testament to Mr Edwards' patience and humour that he cites his worst case as a garlic-breathed man shouting all shades of insults at him.

“To be honest, I was more concerned about that than the threats he was giving me,” he said, adding casually that full-blown abuse took place about twice a week for the average attendant.

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“It is amazing how many people can sum up my ancestry, parentage and behaviour with just a glance.”

But while that revelation might shock the average nine-to-fiver ensconced in the safety of an office, to Mr Edwards it is like water off a duck's back. It is not the abuse that riles him but the bad behaviour of drivers who make other motorists' lives difficult.

He said the qualities most important for a parking attendant to have were confidence, patience, and the ability to think on your feet, listen and communicate effectively. And attendants are trained to exercise tolerance and discretion.

The one ticket Mr Edwards issues in his hour with us he only does after a half-hour grace period to give the driver, who has incorrectly filled in a one-day permit so it could be used again, a chance to return. Even after that he takes nearly 10 minutes standing outside the building where the driver claims to be working to complete the process.

“You have to let them see you and give them time to act - it is amazing how many people will move on just because they have seen you near their vehicle. It is all part of the psychology of it all,” he said.

During this time he deals with five other illegally parked vehicles which are moved without tickets having to be issued. In one instance, a workman delivering bottled water is allowed to finish his delivery in one building before being asked to move his lorry down the road so that while he is still parked on double yellow lines, he is not a danger to other traffic.

Another lorry driver stops on a double yellow to ask for directions and Mr Edwards pulls out a map to help him.

While abuse might be a part of everyday life, there are those who recognise the need for attendants and offer them the same appreciation they would any other worker whose aim is to make life easier for the law-abiding public.

Mr Edwards cites one example of those living off notorious Prince of Wales Road offering late-night cups of tea to attendants who have successfully stopped rowdy revellers parking on their street. Attendants also report anti-social behaviour and are on hand to offer information about other council services.

Norwich City Council does not have a target for the number of tickets to be issued, but more than 100 fixed- penalty notices were given out each day last year, with fines and pay-and- display fees generating £400,000 for its coffers - to be poured straight back into council services.

One in five parking charges was challenged informally by motorists and waived by City Hall.

The government this week unveiled proposals to make council car parking enforcement in England more friendly, including clamping for persistent offenders only, special training for 'enforcement officers', and an easier appeal process.

The proposals aim to provide more transparency and information for road users, a more motorist-friendly appeals process, regular reviews of parking policies by local authorities and the targeting through a national database of persistent parking offenders.

Parking attendants nationally will also have dedicated training, as they already do in Norwich, and will be known as 'civil enforcement officers'.

The name change is already a cosmetic one for Mr Edwards.

“If I have to issue a parking ticket, I have failed and the system has failed,” he said. “It may be revenue raising but parking control is to keep the traffic moving and the environment up to scratch for the benefit of everyone.”