Park your prejudice – it’s just the ticket

first_imgLimerick’s National Camogie League double header to be streamed live Email Twitter Facebook NewsLocal NewsPark your prejudice – it’s just the ticketBy Alan Jacques – October 1, 2015 1666 Previous articleVacant houses in Limerick should be put to ‘productive use’Next articleRugby – Foley Names Munster side to face Glasgow Alan Jacques TAGSfeaturedlimerickLimerick City and County CouncilparkingParkMagictraffic wardens Linkedin Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques walked the beat in the city centre with the local authority’s traffic wardens to experience a day in their shoes.“WHATEVER’S wrong with us is coming in off that river”.The opening words in local author Kevin Barry’s debut novel ‘City of Bohane’ sprang to mind as I joined Limerick City and County Council’s traffic wardens on the beat last week.Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter Sign Up By the end of it all I had to ask myself if “that river” could also be responsible for the widespread amnesia I encountered on the city’s streets as motorists fell into sudden bouts of giddy absentmindedness when told they were illegally parked.“Really am I? I didn’t know,” says one slippery private vehicle owner, perched in a loading bay on Bedford Row. Cooing and batting his eyelids like an innocent schoolgirl as if butter wouldn’t melt!“I was only two minutes,” was the banal cry heard ad nauseam throughout the day from breathless blackguards scurrying up the city’s streets in fear of getting hit with a €40 fine for not displaying a €2 parking disc.To be honest, I found it a struggle to deal with people’s audacity and arrogance. I certainly wouldn’t be able to stomach listening to this tripe day in day out.Thankfully, for motorists, I was only on the beat as a reporter and wasn’t issuing tickets. I would have shot first and asked questions later. I found it very difficult to contain my inner tyrant.However, the experienced traffic wardens that patrol the city’s 11 beats have seen it all before and are highly skilled in the intricate steps of this light-footed little tango. They are far more understanding than I would be if let loose on illegally parked vehicles. Like plum sauce off a duck’s back, they just shrug it off as they go about their business in a professional and friendly manner.But, I’m jumping ahead of myself. Lets rewind a little.The enforcement of parking bye-laws in the city is always a contentious issue but the council have taken a more holistic approach to traffic management in recent years and this was clearly evident to me on my day on the beat in Limerick.There are currently 3,000 on-street parking spaces in the city and 5,500 off-street spaces. An on-street pay parking system is operated by disc parking and phone parking from Monday to Friday in some areas and Monday to Saturday in others from 9.30am to 5.30pm.The whole of the city is a two-hour zone and the cost of on-street parking in the city centre is one of the cheapest in Ireland at €1 per hour. Thirty minute parking permits can also be purchased from ParkMagic for 50 cent by phone and internet.This is all done to help encourage greater footfall into the city centre through a strategy that promotes on-street parking as a ‘short-stay’ street destination and advocates parking for periods longer than two hours in off-street car parks.“Our role is to operate a parking management policy across Limerick where there are 100,000 daily vehicle trips across the city road network. We want to accommodate on-street demand as efficiently as possible by sharing the number of spaces available amongst shoppers, visitors and residents.“At the end of the day, our message is that parking in Limerick city is good value, there is good choice and there is plenty availability for those wishing to come in and enjoy the city centre,” Rory McDermott of Limerick City and County Council Traffic Department explained.There was a time when traffic wardens were public enemy number one. I remember the brown uniformed wardens of yesteryear being referred to as the ’Gestapo’ around the city. In the past, the council appeared to take a more heavy-handed, unforgiving approach with motorists, which won wardens few fans outside of local authority HQ.That has all changed and people have rightfully become more accepting of traffic wardens. Nowadays, people mostly take aim at bankers, clampers, Irish Water and the Labour Party when venting their spleen at the world’s woes.Traffic wardens are not the boogeymen they once were.In fairness to them, they do a highly stressful job for little thanks and go about their work, a necessary evil in any city, in the knowledge of being an easy target for ne’er-do-wells and miscreants.When I met with the city’s four traffic wardens at City Hall to outline my proposal to accompany them on the beat for a day they were understandably apprehensive.I wouldn’t want a reporter following me round all day as I go about my business either, and I work in an office full of them!“We saw the feature ye ran on the Fire Service. That was great. But everybody loves them,” one of the wardens anxiously pointed out.Rory McDermott of the council’s Traffic Department, however, thinks more highly of his team and is quick to jump to their defence.“Traffic wardens play a vital role in the city’s traffic management objectives in support of road safety, business and economic activity and residential amenity,” he said.“They are not hiding behind corners and jumping out on people. Their job is to keep Limerick moving and they are widely accepted and respected.”After agreeing not to use the wardens’ names in my article: they get enough abuse on a daily basis without people having this personal information; I’m given the green light for my article.I arrange to meet up with the traffic wardens in the city centre the following day to find out just how accepted they really are.I meet with Warden A at 8.30 on a Thursday morning on O’Connell Street across from Brown Thomas.Like the opening line in a bad joke, a journalist and a traffic warden walked down the street, with the journalist wearing a day-glo high-vis vest with ‘press media’ boldly emblazoned across the back. Talk about drawing attention to yourself!For the next hour the warden’s priority is keeping the rush hour traffic moving freely on the main street and to ensure pedestrians can go about their business safely, unimpeded by obstruction.The beat is a repetitive one. We walk up and down O’Connell Street from the corner of Sarsfield Street to the corner of Cecil Street over and over for 60 minutes.At this early hour, Warden A’s watchful gaze is zoned in on loading bays and bus stops to ensure they do exactly what it says on the tin.“A lot of people just don’t read the signs properly. We will often come across cars where the driver has gone to the bother of putting up a parking disc but hasn’t read the sign fully and doesn’t realise they are illegally parked in a loading bay. We see a lot of that,” he explains.With an 18-month tour of duty already behind him as a traffic warden in the city, this affable young man tells me that he has learned to filter out the abuse he often receives during the course of his day.“Some people just feel the need to blow off that steam. I don’t even hear the name-calling anymore. You just block it out.“I was spat at one day. That was the worst. It wasn’t even a motorist, just some man on a bicycle spat at me as he went by. You have to have your spider senses on and keep your wits about you.”As we patrol O’Connell Street, a distraught man approaches the traffic warden to tell him his car has been broken into on Henry Street and that the Gardaí are on the way. After reassurance from the warden that a parking ticket will not be added to his woes, the relief is clear on the man’s face.“Have a good day,” the man said to the warden with a pat on the back as he strolled away with one less worry to contend with.During our hour on O’Connell Street, four people approach the warden at different times looking for directions. A quasi-ambassador for Limerick, he couldn’t be more personable or helpful, and sends straying tourists on their way, all the wiser.So, not only does he enforce parking bye-laws in the city, but he’s also a walking tourist information office.I take my leave and make my way to Pery Square to join another walking tourist information office on his beat.At 10am Warden B is busy logging car registrations into his handheld terminal, which records fines for illegal parking and also enables information to be immediately transferred to a database back at the traffic control room at City Hall.I often noticed the traffic wardens on the street working on their handhelds and always presumed they were issuing tickets. But, most of the time, this isn’t the case. What they are most probably doing is checking to see if a vehicle has paid for on-street parking through ParkMagic or is logging the details of an illegally parked vehicle before its grace period begins.Motorists will get ten minutes’ grace to either move an illegally parked private vehicle or to pay for the privilege of their parking spot by displaying a valid disc or topping up their ParkMagic. Ten minutes’ grace is also given to cars in loading bays. The maximum stay for commercially taxed vehicles is 30 minutes while active loading and unloading is taking place. Motorists also have every opportunity to appeal the parking fine once issued.The fine for not paying for on-street parking is €40. For non-display of the correct tax disc it is €60, and €80 for illegally parking in a disabled bay.Nobody likes getting hit with fines. We might sometimes like to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re special and the rules don’t apply to us, but from what I witnessed the wardens couldn’t be fairer.On Mallow Street, a motorist has craftily scratched the month on they’re parking disc and left the date and time untouched. Call me a cynic, but I reckon there’s about as much chance of this being a genuine mistake as there is of a three-legged horse winning the Grand National. The traffic warden though will still give this scoundrel every chance to correct his error and you really can’t ask fairer than that.You need your wits about you on the beat, as people will go to unusual lengths to avoid paying for parking.“They will try anything. I’ve seen people use silver paint and nail varnish to cover up used parking discs. I’ve seen very good photocopies, only given away by the glare off them. It probably costs more to print some of these imitations than it does for a parking disc. People will cover the disc with coins, they can be very creative,” the warden tells me.Sadly, he also found that verbal abuse has become a daily part of his job.“It’s not even the motorists that do it, it’s the passers-by. You will be called names at some point every day. You have to be on your guard all the time,” he says.“If you are nice to people, they will be nice to you but you’ll always get the odd one who takes it personally.”By 10.30am, most on-street parking spaces in the vicinity of the People’s Park are filled and half a dozen cars have already been spotted illegally parked.It’s like walking through the Valley of Squinting Windows as office blinds twitch frantically when the traffic warden approaches. Moments later, backsides start to waddle indignantly towards on-street vehicles in a bid to evade that dreaded parking fine.The warden is then called by one local businessman to visit Daly’s Lane where four cars parked on double yellow lines are blocking access. As soon as he gets in spitting distance of the lane, motorists quickly hotfoot it out of nearby shops and offices like rats off a sinking ship.“I was only two minutes,” gasps one red-faced motorist.By the time we make our way back up towards Pery Square, the grace period has well passed for a handful of illegally parked vehicles we had spotted 20 minutes earlier. In the meantime, these drivers have either left or paid for parking so the warden continues on about his business as normal.One motorist back over on Mallow Street was not so lucky after the same grace period and ends up with a €100 fine – €60 for displaying no tax disc and €40 for being illegally parked. Ouch!At 11.30am, I head for Howley’s Quay to join Warden C on his beat. His day has not got off to the greatest start having already being verbally abused that morning on Henry Street. One disgruntled motorist referred to him as a “scumbag” while going about his day’s work in the city.He has experienced worse.Four young men spat at him and threatened him while on the beat on another occasion.Two years into the job, he has a philosophical approach and doesn’t let the name-calling get under his skin.“We are there to help people and keep them safe. It is a worthwhile job. Without traffic wardens there would be total chaos as people would just park anywhere,” he suggests.“It’s a high stress job, but the good far outweighs the bad. People realise we are here to help them and have generally accepted us.”The warden quickly zones in on a car parked illegally in a bus lane on Bishops Quay and goes to log the vehicle’s registration.“We need bus lanes empty as quickly as possible and, at the end of the day, a bus lane is a bus lane.”Down on Bedford Row, around the corner from Dunnes Stores, a number of cars are illegally parked in a loading bay. While logging the details of the first vehicle, a look of recognition comes over the warden’s face.“I ticketed this car in the exact same bay yesterday,” he says.A glutton for punishment it would seem. This motorist now had another €40 fine looming.On Honan’s Quay across from Arthur’s Quay, there is a real sense of lawlessness as motorists park on loading bays, double yellow lines and even up on the footpath. It’s like the Wild West with cars parked in any old higgledy-piggledy fashion.“I was only two minutes,” says one illegally parked motorist, as bold as brass.“Just getting a prescription in the chemist,” another driver explained.“I’m just going now,” roared another.“I’d appreciate it,” the warden replies with a warm, friendly smile.He soon has the situation under control and the loading bays cleared, all the while behaving in a dignified manner. I am impressed.After lunch, I meet up with Warden D on O’Connell Street. We are back in the Valley of Squinting Windows. One businessman, who’s parking disc expired an hour ago, runs to his car gulping to ask if he got a ticket. I have to bite my lip as the man insists, yes you guessed it, he was “only two minutes”.Down outside the Limerick Leader a car is illegally parked in a bus bay. On the dashboard a sign claims that ‘all spaces are parked illegally by non-residents’ on Alphonsus Street.The driver arrives back two minutes later and on spotting the warden and this high-vis vest wearing hack huddled around her car asks, “Are ye having a party?” before zooming away.Most of the cars across the street have parking discs displayed. However, it is 2.30pm and some of them expired at 11.30am.The warden takes it all in his stride. His worst experience on the job in the last two years was having a glass bottle thrown at him from an apartment window on Catherine Street.“They just saw me as an authority figure,” he reckons.“People can get an attitude on them when they get a ticket but we try to help when we can. You have to take into account where you are and what’s around you. It can be stressful but working outdoors suits me.”By 3pm, my assignment is over and, thankfully, not a cross word has been heard. If anything, it’s the opposite I’ve experienced – and rightfully so.From what I’ve seen, people consider traffic wardens the ‘go to guys’, whether for a traffic management issue or if someone is in need of help or directions. Their very presence has deterred illegal parking in most instances, with compliance improved by 40 per cent in the last two years.To my surprise, I had seen no more than a dozen tickets issued during my four hours on the beat. There were no quotas being met to line the local authority’s coffers, and motorists were treated with fairness and consideration at all times.The four wardens I walked the beat with were very decent blokes. I’d gladly have a pint with any of them. There wasn’t a boogeyman amongst them.They also proved themselves to be worthy street ambassadors for the city. They do an exemplary job under difficult circumstances and should be commended for it.Love them or loathe them, traffic wardens are there to help. We would do well to remember that traffic wardens don’t illegally park our cars!As a wise man once said, “When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself”. 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