Town’s traffic attendants insist the job is more than just tickets

Surveying the cars in William Street.
Surveying the cars in William Street.
  • ‘Times’ journalist spends an hour in town centre
  • “Town is well off for car parks”
  • Attendants offer invite to newspaper

Perhaps it was a case of ‘the traffic attendants strike back’ against the negative publicity they attract.

But they were anxious to reveal their human side and invited the Portadown Times to spend an hour on their town beat this week “to prove that we only issue PCNs as a last resort”.

It’s all very democratic

Hugh Larmour

PCNs or Parking Charge Notices (or ‘parking tickets’ to those unfortunate – or silly - enough to have one appended to their windscreen) are the ultimate result of flouting the rules.

And during our walkabout one was – totally warranted – left for a motorist at Magowan Buildings car park, who had left his vehicle unticketed just nine yards from a machine. The fine is £90, or £45 if paid within a fortnight.

The Portadown Times has highlighted controversial incidents over the past year or so – the bus ‘nabbed’ when there was no room in the designated bus space; the van driver whose vehicle was mostly in his own driveway but jutting out into the footpath.

The attendants, by the way, work for a private firm called NLS, although it isn’t clear what the initials stand for.

They felt they had to answer our latest story of the grandmother who moved her car from an illegal spot in Magowan Buildings (£1 for five hours) to a designated space, took a photo at the second spot, called in MP David Simpson and the Portadown Times and appealed the PCN decision. But the attendant (with hand-held computer) had photographed it in the original position and tapped in all the information.

Hugh Larmour of the Parking Enforcement Unit said, “Our evidence told a totally different story.”

So on the grounds of fairness, we are giving the attendants’ side of things, prompted by the agents Transport NI who are now acting on behalf of the super councils. Contracts have been signed until October next year (pertaining to the car parks, not on-street parking) although the council could scrap charges in the interim if they take the notion.

The attendants (or wardens as they are popularly known) cover the town from Jervis Street to Carrickblacker Road and we met them and their office in Church Street. There are three covering the town at any given time, and – despite the image – they assure us that plenty of leeway is given.

At his request, we are not naming the warden with whom we walked the Church Street-West Street-William Street part of the town, but he was a busy man with his computer which is a camera and a gismo for comprehensive recording of time, place and all the rest.

It was his first ‘shift’ of the day, and overall the town seems well educated in the ways of the system, which he assured us, “is not an exercise for making money, but for keeping traffic moving and allowing time to shop, with pay parking combined with all-day free parking and the one-hour free on-street parking.”

The disabled parking system can throw up problems, although attendants never judge on the driver’s condition as long as the disabled card is genuine and it is properly displayed (instructions are on the cards). There’s a group of officials who visit towns in Northern Ireland twice a year, charged with that responsibility.

In one instance, a car was parked in a disabled bay in Church Street without a disabled pass. But the driver was still in the vehicle and he was moved swiftly on. “Had he not been in the car, I would have appended a PCN,” the warden confirmed. But he always gives five minutes grace, with a countdown clock on the mini-computer, which records the entire process.

Drivers in William Street were a model of conforming, with none parked beyond the hour. Although (whisper it) the 60 minutes isn’t strictly adhered to. Attendants pop the registration numbers into their little magic box, but they aren’t to-the-minute when they return. Sometime they leave it for 90 minutes.

The car park (90 per cent full) at the Thomas Street end of William Street charges 30p for three hours, or £1 for 24 hours, and every car there had the appropriate parking ticket showing prominently. And as well as putting the cash into the machines, they can be activated by ‘park mobile’ – paying via mobile phone. It’s all explained on the machines.

The attendant also recognised a genuine case of a van driver unloading, so he was left to get on with his work.

It was all going so well until we moved across to Magowan Buildings, and it was here that the first PCN of the day was issued. A little black car was parked, ticketless, just nine yards from a machine, and our eagle-eyed man had no option but to swoop.

But before applying the PCN, he photographed all sides of the car (north, south, east and west), using his gismo to confirm that the car did not have a ticket displayed, and that the driver had not used the ‘park mobile’ system. Then, he waited for the prescribed five minutes to place the dreaded ticket onto the windscreen. More pictures followed, so that he could confirm where the car was parked, that it had no ticket and that it was, in fact, parked where and when the attended and computer said. Once the ticket is on, it can’t be cancelled on-the-spot.

Mr Larmour assured us that the driver may have had a good reason for his apparent flouting of the rules. So the appeal is open (details on PCN) and 18 per cent actually do appeal with about half upheld. “It’s all very democratic,” he insisted. “And it will be up to the councils how they proceed after October next year, although the on-street parking will still be up to Transport NI.”

Over the past three years, the number of PCNs in Portadown has declined slightly and steadily – 4,549 in 2012; 4,248 in 2013; 4116 in 2014. What happens under council control remains to be seen.