A VOLUNTEER driver who transports wheelchair-bound groups was fined for parking on a disabled spot after taking people on a trip.
Driver Dwyer French, who has been volunteering with the Down Armagh Rural Transport (DART) for almost two years, said he had been taking eight people of various disabilities to a local stroke group.
While the vehicle, which is owned by DART, has 16 seats, Dwyer had to remove some of the seating on the bus to accommodate those in wheelchairs which needed to be strapped down.
When Dwyer returned to the DART office in High Street, he parked in the disabled spot to reinstate the seating which had been removed and went into the DART building to wash his hands.
However when he returned a few minutes later to the bus, he saw a traffic warden writing him a fixed penalty notice.
“This vehicle is part of a fleet of a community transport partnership. This vehicle is used every Tuesday to transport members of a stroke scheme to a community centre in County Down,” said Mr French.
“On this particular day there were two wheelchair users, one wheelchair transfer and one user of a rollator.
“In order to accommodate the varied mobility needs of my passengers, it is essential that I remove seats from the minibus. On this day there were 7 seats taken out in total. These seats are stored in a gateway on the main street of Lurgan.
“When the ‘run’ was finished, I parked outside the office to return the seats to the minibus ready for the next day. When I finished, I went into the office to wash my hands. While I was there the traffic attendant issued the penalty notice.
“I tried to explain the circumstances, but the traffic attendant would not revoke the notice. I feel that the traffic attendant could have shown some compassion for the reason the vehicle was parked there.
“There is limited parking in the area and if I was to double park to load, due to a traffic island, it would have made it extremely difficult for a larger vehicles to pass, which would result in the entire road being blocked.
“I’m a voluntary driver, who is helping out the community while looking for a job. The community transport partnerships policy, is that all drivers are responsible for parking fines and, due to my circumstances I cannot afford to pay this fine and as a result feel I can no longer volunteer with this organisation,” he said.
In response, DART the organisation issued the following statement: “As a responsible community transport provider providing a range of accessible transport services to people with disabilities. Down Armagh Rural Transport in no way condones the abuse of disabled parking bays by any of its staff and volunteers. Drivers are made aware of their legal responsibilities through induction and training and it is our policy that drivers pay any fines occurring as a result of their own negligence and abuse of disabled parking bays.’
A spokesperson for Department of Regional Development said: “Accessible bays, more commonly known as disabled bays, are installed by local Roads Service Traffic Sections and are reserved for the use of people with a valid Blue Badge. These badges are issued under the Disabled Persons Badge Scheme which provides parking concessions for badge holders who travel either as drivers or passengers. When making use of parking concessions available under the scheme a valid badge must be clearly displayed in the vehicle - unless this is done then Traffic Attendants have no way of knowing the full circumstances of any vehicle parked in a disabled bay. In all cases drivers may challenge a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) if they feel it has been issued incorrectly.”