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Call for end to bus lane 'confusion'

Date: 19 April 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Motorists in the UK's 20 largest cities are now receiving more than a million fines a year for illegally driving in bus lanes.

The data was uncovered by the RAC, which found that more than 3.4 million penalty charge notices had been issued by local councils between 2015 and 2017.

The motoring organisation estimates that the resulting fines would have totalled £68 million a year, or around £200 million over the three years.

The data was compiled following freedom of information requests to London councils and city councils outside the capital.

The results showed that there was a 5% rise in fines over the three years covered, from 1.07 million to 1.12 million.

The RAC says it believes most people fined for using bus lanes have done so accidentally, due to "confusing or inadequate" signage.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said, "Bus lanes have a vital role to play in ensuring the reliability of public transport, as they help to keep our urban areas moving. But the sheer quantity of fines - more than a million every year - suggests something is awry and we don't believe the vast majority are knowingly breaking the rules. 

"While there is clearly no defence for deliberately driving in a bus lane, we believe more can be done to make it obvious to drivers when they can and can't drive in one."

Williams said improving signage would be a key step towards reducing fines.

"Every city driver will be familiar with the blue bus lane sign, but on city centre streets with a lot of signage 'clutter', it can be very easy to miss the specific times of operation," he said.

"This poses the risk of drivers straying into bus lanes when they shouldn't be or avoiding using one when they are actually allowed to.

"We also think it is time we saw modern technology being used to make things clearer for road users, which would also have the benefit of making the best use of available road space at times when bus lanes can be used by all vehicles. 

"Stretches of smart motorway use roadside signs to indicate which lanes are open and closed - we believe towns and cities should now consider introducing 'smart bus lanes' that use similar signage so drivers clearly know when they are permitted to use bus lanes."

The data reveals some regional variations. For instance, councils outside London reported a 9% increase in fines over the three years from 2015 to 2017, rising from 741,777 to 810,642, while in the capital there was a 5% reduction, from 337,039 in 2015 to 318,971 in 2017.

The authority that issued the most fines was Manchester City Council, with 352,688 sent in total. This included 172,311 in 2017 alone, representing a 175% increase on 2015, when 62,580 were issued.

Second in the overall ranking was Glasgow, which issued 339,402 fines in total, although annual figures fell over the three years.

The top five councils for fines issued over the three years also included Cardiff, with 267,713; Bradford, with 208,790; and Nottingham, with 194,993.

Of the 16 councils to provide full data outside London, nine saw an increase in fines between 2015 and 2017, and seven reported a fall.

Birmingham had the biggest rise - a 2,368% increase from 1,287 to 31,768 despite no change in the length of bus lanes or the number of cameras used to police them - while Belfast reported the biggest fall, with fines down 84% to 5,274 in 2017.

Inside London, half the boroughs to respond recorded a rise and the other half a fall, with the biggest increase, of 787% to 1,960, in Croydon, and the biggest fall, of 79% to 286, in Hillingdon.

The RAC says the disparities could be down to a number of factors, with a rise in fines potentially down to the increased use of existing enforcement cameras, and a fall potentially down to drivers adhering to the rules more rigorously or improved signage.

It adds that the data shows no direct correlation between the number of bus lane cameras in operation and the number of fines issued.