First of all, lets assume that people do hate traffic wardens, people certainly don’t want to be traffic wardens. In my extensive research I googled my title and turned up this story via Dizzy from 2007.
A HEARTLESS traffic warden stunned mourners by slapping tickets on a funeral cortege.
That would be enough to make me hate that traffic warden, but to generalise that specific case to all traffic wardens would be ridiculous. Although the availability heuristic causes us to weight unusual events too highly, official policy on ticketing funerals is clear: “Our policy is not to give tickets to cars clearly connected with funerals.” This kind of extraordinary event is rare, this is the only case of a funeral procession being ticketed I could find, and I would predict that the probability of these events being reported is almost one.
Apart from the availability heuristic I think a couple of other cognitive biases lead people to hate traffic wardens more than can possibly be justified. I would argue that a sort of anti-halo effect is in place in which people think that because traffic wardens cause bad things to happen to them, stress and financial loss, they must be bad people in other areas too. We don’t feel as bad about being cruel or unfair to bad people, so people merrily hate traffic wardens.
However, most central is the way the fundamental attribution error and availability heuristic interact. The fundamental attribution error describes how people tend to over-value personality-based explanations for the behaviour of others while under-valuing institutional or organisational explanations. On driving in central London and finding a parking space nobody thinks “thank god for traffic wardens,” but they should.
The only way to match the number of parking spaces available to the number demanded is either by pricing them and by enforcing that pricing or by allocating them centrally and enforcing that allocation. Traffic wardens qua enforcers are indispensable in getting you a parking space. People hate traffic wardens because the good thing they do, ensuring parking is more available than it otherwise would be, is invisible, while the bad thing, giving tickets, is very visible indeed.
I suppose this can’t be emphasised enough, if you want convenient parking, you want traffic wardens. Hating them for doing their job is very difficult to justify.