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Traffic wardens: Friend or foe?

Traffic wardens are much criticised yet 55% of them say they feel their presence is a welcome one. So are traffic wardens a motorist's friend or foe?

Traffic warden ticketing parked cars

Traffic wardens - or Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) - to give them their official title - are often seen as annoying killjoys who delight in handing out parking tickets.

Even the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP has described traffic wardens as "overzealous".

But 55% of traffic wardens said they feel their on-street presence is welcome by the public.

This is according to the UK's largest ever survey of traffic wardens, carried out by parking services provider NSL.

What do traffic wardens have to say?

More than 1,600 wardens completed the anonymous survey and 55% said they felt their presence on-street was predominantly a welcome one.

Some 95% said they frequently answered non-parking related questions by the public, such as requests for directions.

Mark Hoskin, local government director at NSL, says: "As the UK's biggest provider of parking management services we know of the positive actions that occur every day with our wardens.

"They advise on parking guidelines, report back on issues with our streets and roads such as potholes or 'trip spots' and flag up locations where road signs could be clearer.

"But these stories seldom make the media – the only reports we hear tend to be very one-sided and sensationalist."

'Traffic wardens aren't overzealous'

Hoskin dismisses claims that wardens are overzealous.

He says: "It would be interesting to know how that differs from wardens doing their job professionally, and consistently applying the particular regulations set down by each local authority.

These regulations, he adds, "are formed – and regularly revised – in consultation with key members of each community".

"If they didn't consistently apply these regulations they would be accused of favouritism.

"Applications of penalties has to be undertaken consistently. We either have regulations or we don't."

Cardiff seeks to increase traffic warden powers

Some cities are applying to increase the powers of its traffic wardens.

Parking plateCardiff Council has applied to the Welsh Government for its traffic wardens to be the first outside London to be able to issue tickets for moving traffic offences as well as for breaking parking guidelines. 

The council says: "Specific emphasis will be placed on wardens enforcing correct use of bus lanes to ensure that public transport runs efficiently and is an attractive option for commuters." 

"They will also monitor motorists stopping in yellow box junctions. This will help avoid gridlock and ease the frustration caused to the majority of drivers who abide by the law."

If the application is successful the Welsh capital's traffic wardens would be likely to have their new powers by September 2014.

The town with no parking enforcement

The experiences of residents in Aberystwyth, mid-Wales, shows how vital traffic wardens are to the smooth running of transport systems.

The service there was run by the police until May 2011, when it was withdrawn and responsibility for it was moved to the local council.

It took almost a year for a new service to be set up and, as Ceredigion County Councillor and Cabinet Member for Transport Alun Williams, admits, it was a difficult time.

"Unsurprisingly, it didn't work very well.

No traffic wardens = parking chaos

"Trade suffered because time-restricted bays were blocked all day so shoppers were unable to stop for short periods.

"Disabled motorists found their bays used by others and parking on double yellow lines rendered roads impassable by larger vehicles. 

"By the time the service was reinstated it had become clearer than ever why parking enforcement is so necessary."

So, as the situation in Aberystwyth proved, without traffic regulations, chaos reigns. So maybe it's time to stop berating our traffic wardens and start valuing them?  

What do you think?

Traffic wardens: Friends or foe?

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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