I watched a pack of traffic wardens surround a car in Market Street, Oxford this afternoon. I guess only one gets the bonus and perhaps they had all raced to get there, the fastest getting to do the job while the others stood around and chatted.
Or perhaps it really does take three of them – one to do the reedin, one for the ritin and one to operate the camera, with the reward money divvied up between them.
A correspondent asks me if all the traffic wardens in Oxford carry cameras. I don’t know, I am afraid. Appeal anyway – between the traffic wardens and the rather less intelligent little men in the council offices who impose the restrictions, paint the lines and stick up the notices, a high proportion of tickets is invalid.
Before you all write in to say that traffic wardens are an essential service to the community, city would grind to a halt without them, fine body of men unmatched in calibre since Monty thrashed the Hun at Alamein and all the rest, I do accept that they are a necessary evil. I know we cannot expect recruits capable of discretion. I know that they are only obeying orders. I accept that they are an inevitable concomitant to busy streets, like the rats which they resemble as they scuttle along the gutters.
They are, however, the visible part of a system which has failed in Oxford to provide the balance between car users and others who wish or need to visit the city. We do not get to see the bureaucrats whose thinking (there, I can be generous if I try) is limited to screwing up the traffic, building artificial bottlenecks, filling the streets with barriers, signs and notices and creating jobs for themselves with unnecessary tampering with the road layouts.
As the pen-pushers cower behind their desks, it is the traffic wardens whom the public sees. It takes a particular type of person to choose to be a traffic warden and it is not a type one much admires. They get lumped together with their kind – all the growing army of petty little people enforcing petty but increasingly onerous and intrusive regulations – and we rather lose the distinction between those which are necessary and the majority who are not.
Perhaps we would mind a little less if we ever saw a policeman or had any sense that any of this vast army of officials was actually on our side.