THE new pay and display parking system in Portadown’s Magowan Buildings main car park – and the decision to charge for the currently free smaller one in June – are universally loathed by the local motoring public.
A survey of drivers who used the main car park mid-week evoked a plethora of complaints, lauding the old system where motorists exiting the car park paid at the barrier, and slamming the new regime of tickets and attendants.
Under the old system, drivers didn’t have to run the gauntlet of predatory traffic wardens (or ‘red coats’ as they are unpopularly known) or have to check their watches regularly while shopping to ensure they were not liable to the £90 fine (increased from £60) if their ticket ran over by a few minutes.
We spoke to drivers from town and further afield, and they were all adamant that the new system would adversely affect the town, with traders doing their utmost to boost trade and attract more shoppers to the town.
Victoria Newell, a shop manager, voiced the fears of the retail trade when she said that the pay and display was “a real nuisance and the town is losing out”.
“Under the barrier system when drivers collected their tickets on the way in and paid on the way out, everyone was a winner,” she added. “Drivers didn’t have to rush their shopping, and they didn’t have the hassle of over-eager traffic wardens and a possible £90 fine.”
Even as she spoke, a warden appeared, camera at the ready, calculator poised, eagle-eyed checking every car.
Jodie Hutchinson, who works in the Faith Mission premises facing onto the car park, took up the wardens theme. “They’re so ungracious,” she said. “They don’t communicate, they don’t negotiate, they just walk round on the prowl. You’d think they’re delighted to have a new playground to do their work.
“Our customers are so fed up with them. Before this happened, they could browse over the books, sip their coffee contentedly knowing they could park as long as they wanted. But now they have to watch their time in case the tickets run out – and the new £90 fines are ridiculous.”
Gregory Dillon from Tandragee thought the 40p-per-hour charge was far too steep. “The High Street Mall across the road charges just 20p for two hours,” he said. “And they don’t fine you if your wheels are outside the individual parking bay. Last week, I read that the system was costing the DRD £14m a year and this is their way of trying to claw the money back. I just don’t like it.”
Retired primary school teacher Doris Gallagher insisted that the ‘no change’ policy from the unattractive pay machines was “nothing less than a rip-off”.
“They can’t even be bothered providing change in the machines,” she added. “So if you’re nipping in for a few minutes and haven’t got the right change, it could cost you £1. I tried to park in the adjacent free park and couldn’t get in, but apparently they’ll be charging there too, so that avenue will be blocked off.”
Joe and Ethel Boyle from Dungannon said that over-taxed motorists were again “being taken for a ride”. Said Joe, “The last time we came to Portadown, the barrier system was in use and it was motorist friendly with the men in the kiosks, and it was simple.
“Now, the red coats are swooping, and obviously enjoying themselves as they book people wholesale and take their pictures. It’s no way to treat people.”
Former Dobbin man and evangelist Jonathan Reid (now living in Kells, County Antrim) didn’t give the system his blessing. “The prices are far too high,” he said. “There’s no need for it. Portadown is well off for parking and this is simply a money-making scheme. There’s no rhyme or reason with it, and I hate to see my old home town abused like this. It has the look of people simply being exploited.”