Motorists see parking fines on the move
IF THERE'S one job guaranteed to wind up motorists, it's the humble traffic warden.
They are dubbed jobsworths, accused of zealous ticketing tactics and even occasionally end up on the wrong end of attacks from motorists unhappy with discovering a penalty note on the windscreen.
Even so, they play a vital role for councils in making sure motorists obey parking regulations. Or do they? Some might say there are financial incentives for wardens in reaching quotas and do little else than penalise people who often find they've been forced to park in the wrong place, or stay a few minutes too long.
No matter your perspective, the city council revealed a significant insight into the changing strategy in targeting illegally-parked vehicles in a document published under the Freedom of Information Act.
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The spreadsheet report, published on the website WhatDoTheyKnow.com, gives a breakdown of the number of penalty tickets issued, paid, cancelled and outstanding between 2008 and September 2012.
Although there are general nuggets that can be gleaned by scanning the whole report, there is simply too much information for anyone to work with.
For instance, it's possible to work out that 120,471 tickets have been issued. It's also possible to note there was a 14 per cent increase in the number of tickets issued in 2011 compared to 2008.
But it's only when you map the data that certain other trends become apparent.
It's a fairly straightforward, process to clean up the data into a form which the public might understand.
First we had to pull the data into a single data table. I then found a location for each data point by using another dataset from the Ordnance Survey providing the location of roads in the UK. This information, which uses traditional easting and northing coordinates, then had to be converted to latitudes and longitude measures.
Each coordinate circle is then sized against the relative increase in number of tickets issued over the period, with those with the largest increases having a larger diameter than those where more tickets have increased. To add further detail, I've then marked all sites where the number of tickets has increased between 2008 and 2011 in red, and marked them blue where the number of tickets has fallen.
What becomes clear is a change in focus by the wardens. Large sections of the city map have blue rings, denoting areas such as side roads where the number of tickets issued have fallen. Instead the wardens have concentrated on the city centre.
In particular, there have been dramatic rises in tickets issued in Huntbach Street, which saw tickets issued rise a 4,000 per cent from 111 in 2008 to 4,699 last year.
This change in focus is even more apparent if you focus on the top 10 places where tickets have been issued over the full years of 2008 through to 2011.
In 2008 and 2009, Stafford Street topped the hotspot list, but none of the 10 listed hit the 1,000 mark.
Contrast that to 2010 and 2011 where three of the top 10 sites had more than 1,000 tickets issued.
When we first reported the figures last month, Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transportation, argued against accusations it was just a revenue-generating drive. Instead, she said the city centre attracted more motorists and pedestrians therefore demanded further enforcement.
Interestingly, the Highways Agency has been producing a national dataset of every accident reported since 2006. If we look at the number of accidents in an area bounded by the ring road we find there were 119 accidents last year, compared with 98 in 2010 and 41 in 2008.
That's not to suggest a link between tickets issued and the number of accidents, but it's clear the Government's drive to make data more available allows the public more opportunities to analyse what councils are doing.
David Elks is aggregation co-ordinator and data journalist for Northcliffe Digital.