Belfast to get traffic wardens on scooters
Traffic wardens are taking to the roads... on scooters.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal Stormont plans to put a special squad of ‘redcoats’ out on the motorbikes on trial from next month.
The wardens-on-wheels initiative is the latest phase of the war on drivers blocking roads and bus lanes, following the recent traffic chaos in Belfast.
The six-strong team will be on their bikes in and around the city centre and urban clearways and bus lanes.
The cost of the scheme has not been revealed.
If the trial period proves a success, the scheme could be extended to combat snarl-ups in other cities.
The Department of Regional Development says the aim is to get to city centre hotspots sooner to improve traffic flow, particularly in the run-up to the Christmas shopping bonanza.
The move comes just over a week after roads minister Danny Kennedy insisted there is “no war” on motorists.
Retail bosses have concerns the plan could backfire and further deter drivers from coming |into the city during the most |lucrative sales period of the year. But there are fears the scheme could be used to increase the number of parking tickets issued in the city — which reached a total of 36,280 last year.
Drivers may be suspicious about the motives for the move because of the shortfall between the cost of parking enforcement and the revenue raised from fines.
The disparity runs to more than £13m over the past five years.
Belfast is already the most ticketed centre in the country, followed by Londonderry — where the scheme could be trialled next — then Newry, Lisburn and Ballymena.
The city’s commercially-thriving Lisburn Road is the most ticketed area of any street or area in the province, with almost 2,296 fines issued in 2011.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the NI Independent Retailers’ Association, said: “We do need to keep bus lanes clear but I would have slight concerns they would adopt an over-zealous approach, because in the past the 10-minute grace period for drivers has just been ignored.
“They should use a common-sense approach rather than just slapping on a ticket, giving drivers a sharp reprimand, because we do not want to send out the signal that motorists will have difficulties if they come into the city centre.
“But we need to look at a range of measures, among them to ensure that all the roadworks are ended before the Christmas run-in.”
Joe Jordan, president of the Belfast Chamber of Trade, said: “This is becoming a bit comical. It is hard to get your head around it.
“Traffic wardens have nothing to do with traffic flow.
“There is a concern that too much negative publicity about the city centre will be a deterrent for people coming in for their Christmas shopping but outside of the morning and evening commutes the problem does seem to be easing.
“And one of the problems on the arterial routes is that if even one car is parked illegally it has a big knock-on effect on traffic flow and if the wardens were able to address that it would be positive.”
Assembly member Stewart Dickson, a regional development committee member, said: “There will be a lot of derision I am sure but I think it is a good idea and a job that has to be done.
“I know that many people just see the traffic wardens as cash machines for the government but the reality is they have to be there for an equitable and greater quality of life for not just motorists and pedestrians but those using public transport as well.”
Mr Kennedy’s department revealed one scooter is already in use by traffic attendants “to increase coverage of enforcement patrols in Belfast”.
“Five additional scooters are being introduced, primarily to allow more efficient enforcement to be provided on the arterial routes into and out of Belfast,” a statement added.
“The aim of this is to reduce the number of illegally parked vehicles and improve traffic flows on urban clearways and bus lanes.”
New bus lanes brought traffic chaos for peak morning and evening commuters in Belfast this month by creating bottlenecks in many parts of the city centre.
Torrential rain and malfunctioning traffic lights also compounded the problem, leaving motorists late for work, children late for school and retailers without deliveries — or shoppers.
Leading economist John Simpson said the cost of the disruption to the local economy has run into millions of pounds.