Peter Calder: Drivers offside and out of order

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It takes a special kind of person to face the unwarranted abuse that comes each day just for doing your job

A parking warden, known only as Alak, tries to move on an unlawfully parked vehicle. Picture / Sarah Iveyv
A parking warden, known only as Alak, tries to move on an unlawfully parked vehicle. Picture / Sarah Iveyv

The following will surely attract hate mail, and the moderators of online comment will have a busy time of it. Parking wardens bring out irrational responses in sane people - and creepy responses in the slightly unhinged. But here goes.

Sideline bullies at Saturday football matches get upset when referees get it wrong, but not when a player is pinged for being a mile offside. The rules are the rules, eh?

So why, when we park in a place where a sign says we may not park, do so many of us act as though the parking warden who tickets us is somehow infringing our rights?

I didn't think to ask officer 1003, who let me tag along last freezing Friday as he walked his beat in the CBD, for his view of this mystery. He goes by the name Alak, which he pronounces Alec; sadly, for his safety, I won't tell you his full name.

He's a Calcutta native who's been here for 13 years and a parking warden for eight and he has the extravagant courtliness ("Sir, please come," he says when he's giving me directions) that seems like second nature to so many Indians.

Alak says he enjoys his work. He tells me this just after a passing pedestrian has spat on the ground in front of him. "On a bad day," he says, "that happens 15 times. On a good day, less than five."

He's working the north side of Victoria St West, where the rush-hour bus stops are packed with cars whose drivers think the rules don't apply to them. Some see him coming and drive on; one argues that the restriction sign is not at a 45-degree angle to the kerb as required (it is). Others say they'll just be a minute, which doesn't work when you're offside in football.

Only one unattended vehicle gets the ticket that the law provides for. The object of the exercise is to free up the bus stop so buses don't block a lane of traffic. The illegal parkers would take a dim view of a blocked lane if they were driving in it.

The so-called shared space (loading zone until 11; no parking thereafter) along Elliott and Darby Sts is littered with cars, though there's a driver at the wheel of each of them and they move on when asked.

It's a different matter up on Hobson St, where a van is blocking a clearway, causing a massive snarl-up as buses steer around it. Alak and I wait an icy half hour for the tow truck to arrive. He can't leave until it does and the tow is signed off.

Back at base, Auckland Transport's parking enforcement manager, Rick Bidgood, says the 160 officers "from every walk of life and of every ethnicity" who patrol the streets between Papakura and Wellsford share a strong camaraderie.

"Most people look at us and think of parking tickets. But we are the people who clear the clearways and bus lanes so people can come into the city and they are not held up in traffic jams." Wardens also assist with safety at your kids' school gates, give directions, and tell tourists what's on this weekend.

Around 200 applicants seek every job advertised, though that number is winnowed down to "four or five" after testing. Role plays in which applicants have to calm down an angry parker convince many it's not the job for them.

"Every day of their working life these people get abused," Bidgood says. "It takes a special kind of individual to wake up every morning, smile, get dressed in your uniform and go out on the street again."

He is keen to have people understand that officers cannot withdraw tickets once they're issued.

"When the officer hits 'print', that's the end of it. He or she doesn't have the legal authority to review it. There's an appeal process run by an independent department. It's a simple online process. But stuffing the ticket in the officer's pocket doesn't work."

If abuse is common, serious assaults are "mercifully" rare, he says. But he recalls the slight 61-year-old female warden punched in the guts by a 2m man and an "affable gentleman from the UK who hadn't issued a notice all morning when he was king hit from behind".

"What kind of person does that sort of thing?" he asks. I can't answer him.

- NZ Herald

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