The man in charge of Merton’s parking enforcement regime has praised traffic wardens and insisted they were not under pressure to catch out motorists in a bid to rake in millions of pounds of cash.
We challenged Chris Lee, director of environment and regeneration, after readers flooded the paper with complaints about unreasonable parking enforcement.
Last year, Merton Council raked in £3.3m from parking tickets and traffic offences – a third of the department’s £9.2m revenue – and a significant increase on the £2.6m raised in the previous year.
But Mr Lee insisted he would prefer that figure to be zero.
He said: “There are no incentives at all. Performance management is done for those staff in the same way as it is for other staff.
“The truth is, we would be happy if there were no traffic offences at all, but unfortunately there are and it is our responsibility to take action against them.”
But, Mr Lee later described the positive benefit of revenue from parking tickets going towards funding the Freedom Pass, which entitles free bus travel for over-60s, instead of it being paid for by council tax.
He said 31 traffic wardens, whose official titles are civil enforcement officers (CEOs), operate across the borough.
He said “about half” of them operated in Wimbledon town centre but insisted all controlled parking zones were patrolled “at least once a week”.
Mr Lee said the perception of CEOs “in the media” meant they were liable to abuse from motorists, and insisted they were properly trained to deal with heated situations.
“The first thing the parking services manager looks at for recruiting CEOs is their customer care skills.
“We are seeing assaults on more CEOs. We had a couple in the last two weeks. In one case the police were called.
"Fixed penalty notices generate the most amount of complaints from customers.”
But Mr Lee also said one CEO had faced disciplinary action after he was exposed by the Wimbledon Guardian in February for verbally abusing a motorist.
Jani Jance, a freelance photographer from Putney, filmed the employee lunging towards him while shouting “Paparazzi get out of my face” on January 25.
Parking ticket revenue may be even bigger for 2012-13 too, as the council was given powers to enforce moving traffic offences from May, which is why residents are seeing more mobile enforcement vans parking near parking bays and yellow box junctions.
Merton Council's income from parking control in the last three years:
|Car parks (incl season tickets)||£1,561,889||£1,480,597||1,593,300|
|On-street pay & display||£2,032,264||£2,020,970||£2,157,942|
|Permits (inc bay suspensions)||£1,781,804||£1,850,244||£2,105,260|
|Parking Control Notices (PCNs)||£2,456,477||£2,657,604||£3,390,670|
|Ad hoc income (inc. rental/lease income, internal recharge for essential user permits, skip licences, govt. grants)||£349,259||£229,875||£260,876|
'It's not as if we introduced the Hartfield Road bus lane in the middle of the night'
Mr Lee was also defiant over the installation of a bus lane in Hartfield Road in Wimbledon town centre, possibly the most complained-about measure introduced by the current administration since it came to power in May 2010.
The bus lane was installed in November 2011, despite hundreds of complaints and petition signatures from residents and councillors, and Mr Lee was unable to say whether the measure had improved bus journey times.
Of 3,000-plus motorists who have received tickets for driving in the bus lane, many have complained it was a cynical measure to increase revenue and pointed to a lack of signage to warn people.
He said: “I know it created a lot of interest. It is not as if we introduced it in the middle of the night.
"We put notices of the bus lane well in advance. People say we only painted it red weeks after, but that was the process we had to adhere to.
“In terms of signs, what we can put on pavements is very heavily prescribed. We do not want to clutter up our streets.
"We are always being criticised for how there are too many signs on the highway.
“We don’t always get it right but we get it right more than we get it wrong.”