Sunday 19 July 1998

PCA Calls for Urgent Inquiry into Work-Practices of NSW Parking Patrol Officers

"Grey Ghosts Suffering from Eyes Wide Shut Syndrome"

Following the release of a damning pilot study by researchers AC Nielsen, the Chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA), Mr Harold Scruby, today called on the NSW Government to commence an urgent, independent inquiry into the work-practices and activities of the NSW Parking Patrol Officers (PPOs).

Mr Scruby said: "This report confirms what everyone knows; that PPOs and the NSW Police Service generally, turn a blind eye to the serious driving practices of taxis, armoured vehicles, couriers, tradesmen and commercial operators, when it comes to stopping in Pedestrian Crossings, Bus Stops, No Stopping Zones and Standing Abreast (Double-Parking). It is recognised internationally, that such driver-behaviour seriously jeopardises the safety of pedestrians and other motorists.

PPO procedures are based on a `give them a go ... they're doing a job' culture. When caught, offending drivers are asked to move on. Drivers are rarely if ever booked if they remain with their vehicles, no matter how dangerous their actions might be.

PPOs seem to manage to issue most vehicles with a PIN (Parking Infringement Notice) if they are over-time on a parking meter, where no person's safety is compromised, but seem to disappear or turn a blind-eye, when commercial operators stop or park in zones which are deemed to be very dangerous places in which to stop or park. Their entire culture is commerce first, safety second - move the traffic along.

It is unjust that drivers who cause no potential injury, death or danger are the primary focus of PPO activity and receive the bulk of fines, while those who seriously jeopardise the safety of others are usually ignored, asked to move on or let off with a caution?

The Premier, the Hon Bob Carr MP, has made a commitment to give NSW the `Safest Roads in the World by the Year 2000'. The PCA commends and is totally supportive of this bold initiative. However, NSW will never achieve this goal whilst such a culture prevails amongst our law-enforcement officers. By 2000, we are expected to encounter 6 million tourists, over half of whom will be used to crossing the road while looking the other way. Therefore, every effort must be put towards implementing best-practice 3E systems in Education, Enforcement and Engineering.

When challenged, the Police and PPOs defence has always been to demonstrate how many PINs are issued. This is nonsense. It is the number which are not issued which should cause extreme concern amongst the community and within Government.

Current work-practices and regimentation of the PPOs would make a wharfie blush. They are effectively robotised when patrolling their `patches'. Rarely will they cross the road, if there is a serious parking offence, if it is not in their `patch'. Areas outside their "patches" and routine time schedules remain largely unenforced unless police have `permitted' Councils to undertake this function. Many areas around Sydney have now degenerated into Rafferty's Rules because of the intransigence and apathy of the NSW Police Service.

The PPOs are not the only culprits. The taxi industry is a disgrace. They appear to believe that Pedestrian Crossings , Bus Zones and No Stopping Zones are taxi ranks. Double-parking is almost de rigueur. Taxi drivers generally have no hesitation in picking up or setting down passengers in these zones, while putting the lives of pedestrians and other drivers at serious risk. No taxi driver can afford a $134 fine. Yet they behave this way because they know the chances of receiving a fine are virtually nil. The armoured-car drivers are the same. They believe they have a right to stop in these zones, yet the Minister for Roads and Transport, the Hon Carl Scully MP, has stated unequivocally, that he will not be changing the law to permit such activity. We also call upon him to issue a stern directive to the taxi industry that these practices will not be tolerated.

There are several solutions: First, we call upon Mr Scully to immediately introduce 4 demerit points (owner-onus) for stopping in Pedestrian Crossings, Bus Zones or No Stopping Zones. It is demerit points which have been proven to change driver-behaviour. It is utterly anomalous that there are 3 demerit points for failing to fasten a seat-belt, where the only life endangered is one's own, when stopping in any of the above zones can endanger the lives and limbs of many others, including pedestrians and motorists.

Second, we call upon the Government to conduct a wide-ranging, independent review of the NSW Police Service and PPOs and their ability to efficiently and effectively police and enforce the parking laws of NSW. The Royal Commission recommended this well over a year ago, yet the NSW Police Service is still pussy-footing around with its own, internal review. It is the PCA's view, which is backed up in writing by the RTA (and privately by most police officers), that police should hand over this function in its entirety to Local Government, so they can devote their resources to serious crime and more serious illegal driving practices.

There is no doubt that these extraordinary and ultimately extremely dangerous work-practices are common-place within the ranks of the PPOs and NSW Police Service. Long-term non-enforcement of these laws has served to encourage their widespread disobedience. The Grey Ghosts have been suffering from Eyes Wide Shut Syndrome for far too long. We call on the Government to act immediately," Mr Scruby said.