Cross Purposes

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday 8 August 1998

Drivers are all pedestrians when they leave their cars. PETER McKAY looks at research detailing the mobile man's inhumanity to the walking class.

Scenario one: we drive into the city to collect a spouse or child from an appointment. Say it's a specialist or doctor, the patient's a bit wobbly, so we risk parking outside the surgery for the duration of the dash in and out.

How long before a parking officer materialises to whip out the ominous infringement book and hurry us along?

Scenario two: we're waiting, not feeling too clever, on the footpath outside the doctor's or dentist's while our lift is trying to find even an illegal place to park briefly. Restricted zones and even pedestrian crossings are all taken up with taxis, couriers and armoured vans.

Now where are the parking police threatening a fine of $134?

A pilot study by AC Nielsen on the incidence of illegal parking, or stopping on and near pedestrian crossings, found little apparent enforcement of laws designed to protect the safety of the walking class.

Nielsen researchers observed motorists' behaviour at three No Stopping zones in the CBD and another in North Sydney. All zones embraced pedestrian crossings.

At the corner of Martin and Pitt Streets, researchers saw 53 infringements in 30 minutes. No-one was booked.

Commissioned by the Pedestrian Council of Australia, the study reported no evidence of serious police action against offenders.

The research identified taxis as the worst offenders, accounting for about 90 per cent of the illegal parking, and staying for up to six minutes waiting for a fare.

Only once, in North. Sydney, did the occupant of a passing unmarked police vehicle instruct a taxi driver parked in a No Stopping zone to move on.

Five minutes later a marked police car drove past the same spot, ignoring another illegally parked taxi. Nineteen minutes later, another taxi driver escaped censure from yet another prowling police car.

Armoured trucks appeared to park with impunity, often observed propped in the middle of the George Street/Martin Place cross-walk. The armoured vehicles usually stop for about four minutes.

The Pedestrian Council's Harold Scruby believes there is a "compulsory discretion" under which parking officers and police overlook the actions of those who drive for a living - the cabbies, couriers and armoured truck drivers.

Scruby wrote to the NSW Police Service on the matter of soft enforcement of No Stopping laws. The response in part said: "It is practice to actually direct ... a driver to move any vehicle illegally parked rather than compound the problem by continuing the obstruction ... while an infringement notice is prepared and given to the driver."

Scruby's pedestrian lobby is anxious to change the culture from one of indifference or at best "move on, sir" to one where safety is the first priority.

"I accept we don't want any traffic obstruction to be prolonged while an officer writes the offender a ticket," says Scruby. "But the police post tickets to speedsters caught by speed cameras - why can't No Stopping infringement notices be mailed too?"

"Parking patrol officers usually manage to issue vehicles with a parking infringement notice if they are a few minutes over time on a parking meter, where no-one's safety is compromised," says Scruby.

"But [the officers] disappear or turn a blind eye when commercial operators stop or park in zones deemed dangerous places in which to stop or park. The culture is commerce first, safety second."

Scruby and his group feel it is unjust that drivers who cause no potential injury, death or danger are the primary focus of parking officers' 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.

Bob Carr - our non-driving Premier is laudably committed to give NSW the safest roads in the world by 2000. Well-schooled and law-abiding drivers will be an essential part of having the safest State, and that includes those who don't double park or stop on pedestrian crossings, bus stops and No Stopping zones.

And before motorists say who really gives a fig about these routine matters, remember we are all pedestrians once we climb from our vehicles.