Belfast Telegraph

Why drivers and businesses on our most ticketed road are seeing red

CLAIRE MCNEILLY

THERE can be no doubt as to one man's mission.

The words 'Traffic Attendant', written on the back of his black and yellow outfit are a dead giveaway.

He is there, on Northern Ireland's most ticketed street, specifically to make sure motorists don't abuse the 'limited waiting' parking restrictions.

Furiously scribbling numberplate details into a small, flip-top notebook – and, he confides, "any distinguishing marks" to avoid accusations of mistaken identity – he weaves in and around vehicles with wasp-like scrutiny.

He'll be there later again – and, when he does, you'd better not be.

Further up the Lisburn Road, heading the other way, is one of his colleagues, also easily identifiable in a red and black uniform.

This so-called red coat is charged with issuing parking tickets, or penalty charge notices (PCNs) to illegally parked vehicles.

It's easy to see the need to police the fashionable south Belfast street that boasts 100 or so shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes.

Traffic-wise it is chaotic, with a constant stream of vehicles moving slowly in both directions.

And despite a plethora of tariff-free side streets, as well as Department for Regional Development (DRD)-run car parks costing as little as 20p per hour, cars were parked on double-yellow lines as their owners nipped into nearby shops.

Little wonder the Lisburn Road has been the city's most ticketed area for the past five years, with the issuing of 11,049 parking fines since April 2008.

Referring to the wardens – who handed out five tickets a day on this street alone in one 12-month period – Aura Day Spa employee Edith Cahoon said: "Those guys are ruthless; they take no prisoners."

But opinions are mixed, particularly since the clearway restrictions were lifted last November after traders complained that shoppers were being – literally – driven away.

Jennie Stewart, (right), manager at boutique Evelin Brandt, said she had witnessed drivers being ticketed, particularly in the afternoon.

"The attendants turn up all of a sudden on mopeds and it's as if they've come out of nowhere," she said.

Cambridge Barber Shop owners Sean Lawlor and Michael Hare said the new parking arrangements had gone down well with customers.

But Mr Lawlor added: "I've had plenty of altercations with traffic wardens because I've watched them sneak up on cars with people in them."

Cookiebox cafe manager Claire McRandal said the new tidal clearway – which allows parking on both sides of the road at certain times – had helped.

Each PCN issued costs vehicle owners £90 (or £45 if paid within two weeks), which is something 42-year-old Lisburn businessman Alan Doak knows all about.

"It can be difficult to find a space and I've received parking fines in the past," he said. "I haven't noticed any improvements in the area and it would make me think twice about shopping here."

For company director Jennifer Byrne (below left), who was on a day-trip from Newry with her mother Bernadette O'Hanlon and eight-week-old son Leo, the rules were confusing. She said: "It's not obvious where you're allowed to park or for how long."

Teacher and mother-of-two Judith Sizareet (38), from east Belfast, said it was "often extremely difficult" to find a parking space.

Meanwhile, retired banker Shaun Armstrong said: "I avoid the area at busy times.

"I don't go out until the traffic has cleared."

BACKGROUND

Money raised through parking fines has hit a five-year high – with motorists paying out £4.2m. Although the number of penalty charge notices (PCNs) has dropped sharply, the revenue generated has increased because of a hefty increase in the cost of fines. Each PCN issued costs vehicle owners £90 – or £45 if paid within two weeks. Before July 2012 the penalty was £60 (or £30 within 14 days). A DRD spokeswoman said the hike had helped raise its revenue to £4,271,523 in 2012-13.

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