It's a dirty job but I had to do it...

LET'S be honest traffic wardens have never been really popular. And this year they hit the headlines after they were issued with stab-proof vests by Ipswich Borough Council.

LET'S be honest traffic wardens have never been really popular.

And this year they hit the headlines after they were issued with stab-proof vests by Ipswich Borough Council.

Today Evening Star reporter Neil Puffett describes the day he took to the streets to get the low-down on the people most of us try to avoid.

WHEN it comes to professions that everybody loves to hate not many top that of traffic warden.

For decades they have patrolled the streets penalising motorists who pull up where they shouldn't.

And they make an awful lot of money in the process.

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In the first six months since Ipswich Borough Council took over responsibility for parking enforcement in October last year the 15-strong team handed out fines worth close to £300,000.

And concerns over ill-feeling from motorists were highlighted back in May when The Evening Star revealed council chiefs had taken the radical step of buying stab-proof vests for parking enforcement staff.

Despite never having been issued with a parking ticket it is fair to say I have flirted with traffic laws on the odd occasion, and like many I have grown up in a time when popular opinion and docu-soaps have portrayed wardens as almost a sub-human species.

As I pulled up at the council offices on the Hadleigh Road Industrial Estate I was half expecting the widely-held stereotype of a traffic warden to hold true.

I donned a stab-proof vest, waterproof jacket and peaked cap before hitting the streets with my guide for the day Billy Dane.

Billy, 50, has been working with Ipswich Borough Council as an enforcement officer for the past five years having previously worked as a store detective.

His Liverpudlian-accent and chirpy persona soon put me at ease.

Almost as soon as I got into the van with him to sample “life on the other side” my stereotyped preconceptions of a traffic warden were blown out of the water.

As I asked Billy about life as a traffic warden and the public perception of the job he gave it to me straight.

“At the end of the day everyone has parked on a double yellow line,” he said.

“I don't think there is anyone who has never done it but if you get caught you get caught.

“If you don't have traffic wardens or parking attendants cars would be everywhere.

“The whole town would come to a standstill

“Part of our job is to keep traffic moving not to dish out penalties.

“A lot of people think I walk around slapping tickets on cars.

“The last resort is to issue a ticket,” he added.

We headed for the town centre end of Norwich Road, a notorious trouble spot for illegal parking according to Billy, and as I stepped out of the van in my new clobber it felt very strange, almost as if I had crossed some kind of invisible line.

As I strode along the road with Billy I had the feeling people were looking at me in a different way.

When we got to the first few illegally parked cars I felt a tinge of nervousness, a bit of concern that we would issue a ticket and be confronted by some axe-wielding motorist intent on ending my enforcement career before it had begun.

Thankfully nothing of the sort happened.

Whenever Billy spotted an illegally parked car he would have a quick search around for the owner and check if they were in a nearby shop.

On each occasion the driver returned to the car and moved on without Billy so much as having to take down their details.

This definitely wasn't what I was expecting.

As we continued our brief tour of Ipswich roads it transpired that out of the dozen or so cars we spotted illegally parked only two were handed tickets.

The second of these provoked an angry response from a man claiming to have “just popped to the Post Office”.

“How do you sleep at night,” the man blasted.

“I was only gone for five minutes,” he added.

However having seen the other side I knew that Billy had gone through the process of looking around for a driver before logging the cars details.

It then takes a standard five minute countdown on his handheld computer before a ticket can be issued.

“That was the first abuse I have had in a couple of weeks,” Billy, who says he has been threatened in the past but never assaulted, said afterwards.

“But that was just mild.

“Sometimes you can go weeks and weeks without anyone saying anything to you but you usually find that if you get it first thing in the morning you are going to get it for the rest of the day.

“I think it bothers some of the lads but I'm used to it by now.

“You just have to let it go over your head.

“Some people take it really personally.

“It can be pretty hard sometimes but you just have to bite your tongue.

“If you get really wound up it is best to just go for a cup of tea.

“The other day I helped out at the scene of a car crash.

“Most people never hear the good things said about you, they always hear the bad,” he added.

Following my time as a traffic warden I learnt a fair bit about the job - on thing that will stick with me is that it is a thankless task carried out by genuine people.

As Billy puts it: “How would you feel if an ambulance couldn't get down a road to reach one of your relatives because of illegally parked cars?”

I don't think I'd like it one bit.


How a ticket is issued:

Each parking officer works from a handheld computer that lists every road in the town and the parking restrictions for that road

If he spots a car parked on a regular double yellow line they will go through the process of looking to see if the driver is in a shop or on foot nearby

If no one is around they will then set about entering the car's details on his handheld computer

Once the details have been logged the computer will start a five minute countdown before a ticket can be printed

If at any point the driver returns within this time a penalty notice cannot be issued

If the time limit expires the ticket has to be placed on the car before the penalty notice is valid

A photograph of the ticket on the car will then be taken and a longhand note is made of the time and location of the ticket

The entire process can take up to ten minutes

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