A Day in the Life of a Parking Inspector
Ok, I admit it. It was a career crisis type of moment (I have had lots of these). It made perfect sense at the time to leave my desk job behind and take up a job as a parking inspector for half the pay and twice the abuse.
I just couldn’t stand another minute stuck behind a desk, on the phone, dealing with clients and technical issues (and some of the other people in the office). Actually, I’ve been trying to escape from behind my desk for ages but looking back now, I have no idea why I thought parking was the right thing for someone like me (particularly as I don't like being regularly threatened with personal violence).
I think I was seduced by the idea of working outdoors, wearing a uniform and having no stress...not quite exactly how things turned out.
Being a parking inspector is not easy
Working as a parking officer can be pressured, unsafe and very stressful.
Parking enforcement is mainly about time management. It is also about investigating as you have to make a decision about what, if any, offence to book people for.
You also need local knowledge, the ability to constantly scan for danger and some strategic skill to make it work. Depending on where you work, there can be a lot of pressure to get a certain number of tickets per day. This can be really difficult as a lot of uncontrollable factors (angry people, bad weather, equipment failure, heavy traffic) can interfere.
The weird thing is that getting a large number of tickets in a shift is perversely satisfying.
It started off with induction. You know the drill - this is what council does, here are our stats and this is our business planning. Then they gave me some uniforms and a bit of haphazard training in local and state parking laws.
I hit the streets with an experienced mentor for a couple of weeks, which was the best thing that council did for me. I learned about safety and avoiding conflict and got some valuable tips about the various parking areas from someone with current relevant experience.
Then the boss gave me a half hour ‘test’ (really just a chat about parking signs) and my training wheels were removed. I was sent out there on my own with the firm message to “book them all”.
Working for the City
Parking inspectors work for a local council or city government.
In my experience, council management can be passive-aggressive about ticket numbers. Although councils will deny it, there actually is an unofficial ticket quota per officer. Ticket numbers are used to measure performance so that council can manage under-performers.
Council managers always say that safety is their primary priority and that if it is not safe to try to get that ticket, then just walk away. However, where I worked this was often said at the same time as trying to inspire officers to get higher ticket numbers (mixed message). My colleagues were often more worried about getting the required ticket numbers than safety, especially as many of them were on temporary contracts and the management indirectly let it be known that permanent jobs are awarded on the basis of ticket numbers.
The Pathfinder is brilliant. Nick Lore's insights into human nature had me bursting into laughter, laughing at myself, and completely rethinking what a "career" is. Much like how transformational movies stick with you; Lore tugs on your heart and soul; you'll never see your career in the same way. Despite your fears, he inspires you and gives you powerful tools to do something with your life.
What people will do to try to get out of a parking ticket
I got to see the worse side of people. The number of outright lies and blatantly stupid excuses people told me to try to avoid a ticket was mind-boggling, for example:
- “I am only trying to pick up my disabled wife” (while waiting in a bus zone at peak hour, holding up all of the people on the bus and creating a safety hazard, without a disabled parking sticker and then when the wife arrives she is perfectly fine…running to get to the car in fact).
- “I have only been here a few seconds” (I had placed a chalk mark on the car two hours earlier proving it had not moved in all that time).
- “This is the Prime Minister’s car and I am her driver, just waiting for her here” (A dilapidated 1996 Mazda - I asked if the Prime Minister would really want to be seen to break the law before issuing the ticket).
- “I am from (another city) and I don’t know the area”. I ask these people if they have parking laws where they come from and when they say yes I explain that they have to read the signs here the same as they do in their home city.
- “I have cancer” (what do you say to that??)
- “I am having diarrhea right now” (my all-time favorite excuse)
- “I just pulled up to do a quick job for an old pensioner who lives in this building” (tradesmen say this sort of thing all the time trying to tug the heartstrings, and they hate it when I point out that according to my device which is connected to a satellite connected to the parking meter they have been there for several hours)
- “But I’m in my car, I have not left my car” (I explain that as they are currently parked in a metered space they are stopping someone else from paying for the space)
- ‘I’m just picking up my kid’ (while parked across the school crossing creating a safety hazard for the other children and setting a really bad example for the children)
- “My father works high up in council and you will be in trouble”. (You absolutely must issue the ticket in this scenario even if there is another reason not to as if this is true and you don't ticket them, you could be fired for favoritism and unethical use of discretion)
- “Why do you do your job, how can you stand to harass innocent people all day?” I explain that the person has broken the law and that parking is about equity as there are not a lot of parking spaces in the city but there are lots of people who want them, so we have to keep people moving to be fair – but of course no one ever wants to hear logic when they are trying to get out of a ticket...
The list is endless.
What it’s actually like
People really really hate parking inspectors. They beeped their horns at me and called out things like “dirty dog”, “scab”, “mongrel” and far far worse and that was just when I was walking down the street not even booking anyone.
If a driver came back to the car while I was ticketing it the result included things like being sworn at, spat at, followed, photographed, harangued or otherwise abused. My former colleagues have been hit, punched, threatened, and even had people drive their cars up onto the footpath directly at them. I was lucky not to have been bashed (if I had stayed in the job this might have happened).
The whole thing left me puzzled as to why people get so upset at parking officers when people are only going to get a ticket if they break the law. It’s a no-brainer.
I think that because it is only local laws being broken people don’t take it seriously. Of course there are many people who would think nothing of breaking all sorts of laws and I suppose parking is not important to them at all.
Depending on what shift you get (morning or afternoon) the idea is to scope the run and see where the most cars are in the most highly regulated areas. Then you get out your chalk and mark the tyres. You come back to that area after the regulated parking time has elapsed and issue tickets for those that have overstayed. This is called ‘picking up chalks’.
If you are not in a good area to chalk, you check parking meters and see who has not paid and who has let their ticket expire. You also have to do parking complaints - cars across driveways, staying too long in loading zones holding up business and that sort of thing. If you get a lot of complaints you won’t get back in time to pick up your chalks and then all that time you spent chalking is wasted.
At peak parking times (morning and afternoon rush hours) you have to make sure no one is stopping in traffic lanes and get their vehicles towed away if they do. Sometimes one car parked in a lane can hold up so much traffic that people trying to get home from work will have an extra half hour or more added onto their already long commute.
At the same time you are expected to ‘educate’ the public. This means explaining the parking laws to people who ask. You are also expected to act as a sort of ‘city guide’ for people who need directions or information about the city.
You can walk 10-15 kilometres in a day of doing parking easily. You work in all weather conditions and you do shift work. You have to try to find toilets and take food with you unless you want to waste time returning to the office for lunch. If you return a lot you won’t get high ticket numbers.
You do get to pick where you go within a run and you aren’t stuck in the office all day, which is really good.
If you are brave enough to work in parking…
My former colleagues told me that pretty much all councils are the same in terms of culture when it comes to parking, but some are better organised than others. Sadly, I chose one of the more disorganised ones to work for. If you do your research and pick an organised council you will have a better experience than I did.
Make sure to check out their safety record.