THEY’RE right up there, vying for top spot in the unpopularity charts, just above tax collectors, estate agents and journalists and only marginally below wheel-clampers and Nick Clegg. Yes, we are talking traffic wardens.
They seem to have been part of the British motoring landscape for ever, these figures who generate fear and fury in equal measure, yet the species was actually born in 1960 – meaning the traffic warden has been around for 50 years.
A little army of 40 of them, dressed in yellow-embellished paramilitary uniforms, was unleashed on to the streets of London, empowered by the Met Police to root out law-breaking motorists and clobber them with £2 fines. A GP helping a heart attack victim received the first ticket and was later let off.
In 1960 Westminster, the crucible of traffic wardenhood, an hour’s parking at a meter cost sixpence – that’s two-and-a-half pence in modern speak – and the £2 fines brought in about £48,000 a year. Today that hour would set you back £4.40, a fine can be £120, and the revenue, which nowadays lands up in the local council’s coffers, is more than £69 million.
And Westminster is just one of 34 London authorities issuing parking fines. Last year they hauled in almost £338 million. Elsewhere in England and Wales, a further 245 councils, employing 18,000 parking attendants, are churning out four million tickets and raking in another £267 million. So parking where we are not supposed to is costing the British motorist somewhere north of £600 million a year.
Barrie Segal, a leading expert on the whole issue of parking and dealing with officialdom, has written a big-selling book on how to fight unfair tickets and regularly takes on appeal hearings on behalf of harassed motorists. He has also set up a website called http://www.appealnow.com
Some of the grim tales he reports would be laughable if they weren’t so pathetic, like the warden who slapped a ticket on a hearse loading a coffin at a funeral; another who ticketed a mobile blood donor vehicle; and a blacksmith whose horse had a ticket stuck on it.
Then there was the case of the ticketed rabbit. A Manchester pet shop owner watched in amazement as a warden put a ticket on the rabbit’s hutch inside his shop after he moved his delivery van before she could get to it.
Meanwhile a woman driver from Worcestershire was driving when a tree fell and crushed her car. She escaped unhurt and police dragged her car to the roadside – where an enthusiastic warden promptly slapped a ticket on it.
We all know, of course, that parking regulations are a necessary evil if our towns and cities are not going to be clogged. Anyone who has ever visited Rome or Paris will know the chaotic alternative. Tax collectors, politicians and even journalists are necessary components of modern life, too – but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t have a good laugh at their expense once in a while.