The AA has accused County Hall of setting a “trap” for motorists in Preston’s controversial new bus lanes.
And the motoring organisation has urged thousands of drivers stung by £60 fines to appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.
“It is disgraceful,” said an AA spokesman. “Motorists should have been given a decent grace period - at least three months and ideally six. A couple of weeks or so is not acceptable. It just becomes a trap.”
A staggering 8,000 drivers were fined in the first week after warning letters turned into penalty notices. The new regulations went live on Halloween and, after a two-week breathing space, Lancashire County Council started issuing fines as a steady stream of cars and vans continued to use Fishergate between the prohibited hours of 11am and 6pm.
The penalty charges sparked an avalanche of protests from motorists who claimed they had been caught out by the speed of the whole operation. Some claimed the road signs were confusing or badly sited. Others grumbled that the new road layout had not been adequately publicised.
One disgruntled driver, Alex Martinez from Walton-le-Dale, is currently challenging a £120 fine after he was caught on camera twice in one day using the bus lane.
He has protested that the lack of markings on the road surface make the bus lanes unenforceable, according to the Highway Code.
“The section on bus lanes clearly states that bus lanes are ‘shown by road markings and signs,’” he said. “Everyone goes by the Highway Code. It’s the Bible for road users. And if it says there should be road markings as well as signs then the Fishergate bus lane is not legal.”
Daniel Herbert, LCC’s highways network manager, said: “The bus lane on Fishergate has been designed according to the requirements of the relevant legislation, which doesn’t specify the use of road markings in this situation.
“We have received a number of challenges to penalty notices and will consider each on its merits. We introduced this measure using a temporary six month experimental traffic order to address an immediate, acute problem in the run up to Christmas.
“Given that, it would have made little sense to offer a three-month grace period. There is no actual legal requirement for a grace period.”
The AA say thousands of drivers could still have a case due to the short period set by the council.
“The victims of these fines have a chance to take their case to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and see how they respond,” said the spokesman.
“Two weeks just doesn’t take into account that people may not have heard about the new measures or read the notices or seen the signs.
“The council has a legal right to fine people for driving in a bus lane. But the execution of it in these circumstances becomes just that - an execution.
“They could have done a three strikes and you’re out system. But this way they have completely messed up. What’s happened is not right, it’s not acceptable.”