The north’s new team of parking enforcers are handing out tickets at a rate of one every 24 minutes, “earning” over £200,000 since they started.
The 11-strong squad, including a roving patrol, has made £104 an hour by fining illegally parked motorists in the seven months since the scheme went live.
A total of 4,461 drivers have been snared in the Highland capital and another 505 have been caught in the Lochaber town, with four tickets issued in places classed as “other.”
A total £213,450 worth of fines have been raised since the scheme went live on October 24 last year. Under the former police traffic warden scheme, the council pulled in just £58,574 in 2015/16 according to a freedom of information request.
Councillors and tourism chiefs expressed concerns over the latest figures which show an alarming month-to-month rise in the number of fines issued since February, fearing it could be detrimental to visitors.
In Inverness, 545 tickets were issued in February, 662 for March and 746 for April. And in Fort William, 45 tickets were issued in February but this increased to 71 for March and rocketed to 123 last month.
Last night, Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell said she has received several complaints recently from guesthouse owners in Greig Street and Kenneth Street area of the city, who claim their guests have been issued with parking fines while parking outside to take their luggage in.
She added: “I just feel it gives a dreadful message to the visitors we want to attract and welcome. Inverness is a popular place but we want it to be even more popular, and some of these people won’t return. First impressions are crucial.
“I am concerned about the impact a zero-tolerance attitude will have on our visitors, and that was never the intention when we first spoke about parking enforcement back in 2012/13.
“There is a new council elected and maybe it’s time to have a conversation and let’s try and see what wee can do to make parking enforcement officers become better ambassadors for the city.”
Mrs Campbell also wants a review of “insufficient” parking facilities in the west side of the city and plans to get the ball rolling with other councillors.
Last night Inverness BID manager, Mike Smith, said it was “disturbing” to learn of the recent rise in fines.
He added: “We are all realistic in that we live in an era when the parking free for all should not carry on, but we need to be sensitive that we are not forcing people out of the city centre. Everyone should be made aware of where these fines are levied and make sure that they do not have a detrimental effect if it’s affecting tourists.”
Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Andrew Baxter said it was “too early to tell” if the fines will have a detrimental effect on tourism and will make a judgement after reading a first year review of the scheme in autumn.
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “There is not a “zero-tolerance” approach to de-criminalised parking enforcement in Highland. Discretion is shown by Highland Council’s parking enforcement officers as they allow up to 10 minutes while people are loading and unloading their vehicles. In addition to this, the council also makes dispensation for tourism-related businesses as they can purchase additional visitor parking permits for their premises.”
The spokeswoman added that the introduction of the scheme was widely publicised and the public were consulted on the traffic regulation orders last year.
Following a three-week grace period, the penalty charge notices regime went live on October 24 and offenders are liable to pay £30 if they stump up within 14 days, or £60 if they wait for more than a fortnight.
The scheme costs £550,000, £240,0000 of which is for physical changes including 160,000 metres of lining and the 2,000 road signs.
Money made from fines is being used by the local authority to off-set the running of the service.
The back office running of the scheme is being done in partnership with Edinburgh City Council, which has 18 years of experience in running a very similar parking scheme.
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