Drivers are still not getting the message about Preston’s notorious bus lanes . . . despite handing County Hall more than £1m in fines.
Highways staff say the numbers of motorists getting tickets is falling, although more than 14,500 have been nabbed in the three months since the cameras were switched back on.
One county councillor admits he is “staggered” so many are still getting caught after the avalanche of publicity the controversy has sparked.
“I can’t believe that hundreds of cars a week are still going down the bus lanes - it’s ridiculous,” stormed Coun Yousef Motala, who represents the city centre on LCC and is an outspoken critic of the scheme.
“The income from it is huge. But, to me personally, it’s all wrong. We should scrap the whole thing.”
The council says it has seen a month-by-month fall in the number of penalty charge notices issued since the cameras went live again on December 4.
In the 28-day period up to New Year 5,553 were penalised - an average of almost 200 a day. In January the cameras caught 5,312 and in February 3,666 tickets were issued.
The man responsible for roads at County Hall says he is “encouraged” that fewer drivers are now being caught out compared to the same period a year ago when around 30,000 drivers were booked for using the bus lanes - only to be offered a refund after the warning signs were ruled to be inadequate.
“I’m encouraged to note that the numbers are down by over 40 per cent compared to last year,” said Coun Keith Iddon, LCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport. “It shows that the message is getting across to many drivers and I hope this trend continues.”
The highways authority is adamant it has done all it possibly can to warn drivers not to use the bus lanes. Extra signs have been put up and the council has run a publicity campaign to highlight the restrictions.
Yet, since the cameras went live on December 4, scores of vehicles every day have been captured on film ignoring the rules.
With a charge of £30 - or £60 if not paid within 14 days - the income from the bus lanes in three months amounts to at least £435,930.
Considering around 21,000 drivers from last year failed to reclaim their fines, LCC has made in excess of £1m from the scheme so far.
According to County Hall the money goes towards “highways and transport projects” including the new road link from Lune Street to Ringway to help ease congestion in Fishergate. Coun
Motala, who claims businesses and residents in his city centre ward share his dislike of the bus lanes, said: “The whole thing is just a way of making money.
“It is only a temporary measure and I shall be voting against it when it comes back to council to be made permanent. It should go back to just being shared space - the old system was better.
“It’s affecting businesses because people won’t come in to shop in the city centre. The changes to make Lune Street two-way are causing more tailbacks than before and all the residents I talk to in Avenham and Frenchwood are against it because they are seeing more congestion - and more pollution - around their homes.
“Considering thousands of drivers are still getting caught suggests it isn’t working. The signs are big enough and you’d think, with all the publicity it has had, most people would know not to go down the bus lanes.
“There have still got to be some issues with this if have been caught in just three months. The figures might be dropping, but it is still catching too many people out.”
Coun Iddon, who inherited the bus lane scheme last April when the Tories took over from Labour at County Hall, said a lot of work had gone into making sure drivers were aware of the restrictions since the embarrassing climb down by the previous regime.
“The county council has put out a lot of information via the media, social media and radio advertising to make people aware of the bus lanes,” he said. “We also increased both the permanent and temporary signing before we brought back enforcement last year.
“There are many signs around the city centre and on various approaches to the city, which make people aware of the bus lanes.
“The aim of these bus lanes is to reduce congestion which has affected the city centre at certain times. We’re happy if we don’t make a penny from the cameras, as it means that people are doing the right thing.”
Daniel Herbert, the council’s highways group manager, added: “We increased the signing before we brought the enforcement back in, to increase people’s awareness of the bus lanes. More than 10,800 penalty charge notices were issued for vehicles travelling incorrectly on the two bus lanes on Fishergate between December 4 and the end of January. This is around 50 per cent lower than the first time the cameras were active. We have had just 39 appeals with only a small number of successful ones. We’ve been clear all along that we don’t want to issue any PCNs, as it shows that people are doing the right thing.”
‘When I got two tickets I couldn’t believe it’
Disabled driver Gayle Husband picked up two tickets on the same day after she used the bus lane to visit her favourite shop on Fishergate.
The 40-year-old appealed and has now had one of the tickets torn up, but only because it is LCC policy not to issue additional PCNs between the first offence and the notice of fine being received by drivers.
Gayle, who comes from out of town - Blackrod near Bolton - said she was unaware of the bus lane regulations when she arrived in the city to visit Lush for the Boxing Day sale.
“I drove into Theatre Street and parked in a disabled bay, because I can’t walk very far and Lush is just round the corner,” she said. “I was in there for ages because it was so busy.
“When I got the two tickets through the post I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I had done anything wrong.
“Surely there should be special dispensation for disabled drivers who need to get closer to the shops because of their mobility problems.
“I’m on benefits after being classified as unable to work. So these fines will hit me hard.”
A spokesman for LCC said it was normal practice to cancel a second ticket if it came between the first and the penalty charge notice being received. So Ms Husband would only be charged for one transgression.
‘I genuinely didn’t know I was in the wrong
Ian Chase is one of the select few to have a penalty charge overturned in the past three months following appeal.
The 50-year-old was snapped in the bus lane in the morning of Saturday December 9.
His case to the tribunal hearing was that the signage leading up to the area was not clear enough, despite what county hall bosses have claimed since bus lane reopened.
He told the Lancashire Post: “It was a complete shock when I received the penalty charge notice, it was not until then that I realised I had done anything wrong. I’m a person of principle. People were telling me just to pay the fine, but I’m a careful driver and genuinely didn’t know I was in the wrong.”
Mr Chase, who is from Clifton on the Fylde coast, said he drove back to Preston along the same route and said he only noticed the signs warning of the upcoming bus lane regulations because he knew what to look out for. He said he disputed the penalty charge, therefore, as a matter of personal principle.
He added: “The fact they started it back up in the weeks before Christmas, a busy time of year in the city for shopping, says a lot.
“They say they have done PR and made people aware. If you live in the centre of Preston you will know about it. But people who live outside, like myself, that wouldn’t be the case. I wasn’t aware of it, a lot of people are completely oblivious.”
A spokesman for LCC stressed that Mr Chase’s appeal had not been allowed on signage grounds, but because of the way his case had been administered internally.