Fine time to win over that parking warden

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

With the new 'tiered' parking fine, getting to know the parking wardens in your area may pay off

This year, Santa slipped in something nasty with the rest of his presents.

The gifter was none other than our Land Transport Authority (LTA), which decided to add to the Christmas cheer by announcing that it will embark on a new system of fines for illegal parking when the new year begins.

The "first adjustment in two decades", the new system will see errant motorists pay about 50 per cent more in fines if it is their second offence within a year. So that $70 parking ticket for parking on double- yellow lines becomes $110, and continues to be $110 for each subsequent offence until you sober up and manage to keep a clean sheet for 12 months.

In its press release, the LTA said that about half of all illegal parking traffic notices issued between 2011 and 2014 were committed by repeat offenders.

I couldn't quite believe my eyes - only HALF?

I don't know about yours, but mine has been a life littered with parking tickets, and with its many high points marked by euphoric narrow escapes from the "summon auntie".

One of my earliest childhood memories growing up as a toddler in 1970s Singapore was sitting in my father's yellow Datsun 120Y. He would have stopped the car by the side of the road somewhere and gone to pick up something from a store, leaving me with his usual instructions.

"If the parking officer comes, what do you say?" he would ask.

"That my daddy got stomachache and went to the toilet," I would intone with practised accuracy, and then add, with the sweetest toothless smile and one outstretched palm: "And he will be back in five minutes!"

My dad obviously knew how to play the game because it always seemed to work. The parking wardens would frown, shake their heads and occasionally say to me: "Tell your daddy next time cannot park here, okay?"

But amazingly they would let us off, even as I could nervously see from the windows that cars on the road were sometimes honking and signalling frantically to avoid us.

As I grew up, illegal parking became very much part of the fabric of life - looking out for parking wardens while eating in coffee shops as a family, and rushing in bated breath back to the car to see if there was a little white slip under the windshield wipers.

When parking coupons were introduced, a new set of challenges was born. We spent many a moment debating if this was or wasn't an area parking wardens frequented, whether they would come if it was raining, on a Sunday or the second day of Chinese New Year. We even experimented with recycling parking coupons by placing little bits of black paper matching the colour of the car's dashboard in front of the tabs.

There were times when my dad would miscalculate and get hit with a hefty fine, but I could see each little victory against the parking wardens and the system in general meant something to him.

There was the financial value of every dollar and every coupon saved (my dad worked two jobs for most of my childhood), but as was the case with many Singaporeans of his vintage, I suspect illegal parking also brought out the rebel in him. It was a protest of sorts against a life here weighed down by an overwhelming need to conform to strict sets of rules and regulations.

Of course, these days illegal parking is just illegal parking and there is little symbolism to it beyond plain stupidity and sheer bad luck. For most of us, it's a crutch that we reach for more than occasionally, when we are late for something and there just aren't any empty parking lots in sight no matter how hard we look.

In this new "tiered parking fine" world that we will shortly be living in, I guess we will just have to wise up because each mistake we make is going to hit us that much harder.

The first thing to do is to actually find out exactly what parking offences you could get into trouble for, so that you don't commit a crime you didn't even know was a crime.

I was shocked to find that there are as many as 39 types of illegal parking offences in Singapore. Everyone knows about the double-yellow "no parking" and zigzagged "no stopping" road markings, and common sense tells you not to park at a pedestrian crossing, bus stop or a taxi stand.

But I never knew that you could not park, for example, on a grass verge or within 3m of a fire hydrant. Those who can't parallel park to save their lives should also watch out, for failing to park parallel with the road or parking too far away from the edge of the road are apparently also offences.

Which is why the second most important thing to do from here on is to get to know your neighbourhood parking wardens, who preside over these borderline offences every day, and now possess more power than ever before to make you seriously broke and unhappy.

Where I live, there are currently two wardens on duty every day. One is a slightly nervous-looking Chinese national who is relatively forgiving. When she does take the occasional recalcitrant offender to task, she takes a million photos of the illegally parked car as if to make sure her action can be 100 per cent justified.

The other warden is a young Indian woman - a silent killer who walks with an ominously carefree spring in her step. If she lived in a fairy tale, she would stop every now and then to smell the flowers. But these are the crowded narrow streets of Joo Chiat and every stop she makes brings out the tell-tale chug-chug of her ticket- issuing machine.

She has hit me with fines for everything from parking in the wrong direction to parking within 6m of a road junction and slightly outside the markings of a carpark lot. Once she issued me two tickets within 24 hours because I was away on holiday over the weekend and did not rectify my behaviour quickly enough for her.

Perhaps director Royston Tan's upcoming new film 3688, about a parking warden aspiring to be Chinese songstress Fong Fei Fei (hat and gloves and all), will help shed some light on how to win her over.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping, for my wallet's sake, that my sweetest toothy smile and a friendly wave from an outstretched hand will help.

ignatius@sph.com.sg