Smile! You could be one of 170,000 caught on camera in Preston's pesky bus lanes
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It is estimated that the seven pole-mounted monitors have scooped between £5m and £10m in fines for County Hall coffers from unsuspecting drivers who stray into the city’s “bus only” stretches of road.
And that cash windfall looks set to increase with yet more bus lanes planned across Lancashire to make public transport quicker and more appealing for commuters and shoppers.
According to statistics revealed to the Post following a Freedom of Information request, the biggest cash cow has been the infamous Fishergate bus lane, responsible for more than 70 per cent of the tickets dished out in Preston since November 2017.
Surprisingly drivers in the tiny village of Broughton have been snapped more than 32,000 times for using small sections of Garstang Road as a short-cut.
And the latest camera-controlled bus lane - only opened in Spring this year in Tithebarn Street - has already caught out 7,000 motorists in just seven months.
“It’s shocking,” stormed Coun Yousuf Motala who represents the Preston City division on Lancashire County Council and has been an outspoken critic of bus lanes since they were first introduced.
“All they are doing is driving people away from the city centre. Businesses are already struggling, but it’s going to be a ghost town before too long.”
The bus lane saga in Preston has been one of the most divisive issues in the city since the first one was controversially unveiled in Fishergate in November 2016.
The county council had to switch the cameras off after just four months when it was ruled the warning signs for drivers were inadequate. The AA even condemned the bus lane as a “trap” because motorists only realised it was there when it was too late to turn back.
In that period alone 36,000 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were issued to drivers for using the new bus lane from Mount Street to Corporation Street between 11am and 6pm.
A further 15,000 were caught on camera ignoring “no right turn” signs at the top of Butler Street and travelling across to Corporation Street instead of taking the long way round via Bow Lane.
A ruling by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal later advised County Hall to refund all the fines that had been paid and start again with extra signs. But only a fraction of those drivers bothered to apply for their cash back, meaning the council was able to keep the rest.
Since the cameras in Fishergate were switched back on in November 2017 the numbers caught on camera remained in the thousands every month until Covid lockdown in March 2020 brought a dramatic reduction in traffic.
Figures for Fishergate fell to the low hundreds, sometimes only double figures per month. But they have started to creep back up, with last month (November) going over 1,000 for the first time in almost two years.
Broughton’s bus lane cameras were switched on in May 2018 and they too have taken rich pickings from motorists trying to take a short cut instead of following the authorised route via a roundabout on James Towers Way. As many as 85 a day have been snapped in the bus lane.
And the new Tithebarn Street no-go zone for general traffic near to the city’s bus station, which only came into being in May, has been well used by unsuspecting drivers, with as many as 1,100 a month being issued with tickets.
Right through the past five years LCC has repeatedly urged motorists in advertising campaigns to steer clear of Preston’s bus lanes, but the figures show the warnings continue to fall on deaf ears.
In 2019 frustrated council officials asked: “Just what do we have to do to get the message across?”
Peter Bell, LCC’s regulation and enforcement manager told the Post: “The bus lanes in central Preston have contributed to making a really positive difference to the way traffic is managed in the city centre and Broughton.
“The reason for having the bus lanes is to improve travel and we would be happy if everyone did the right thing, they didn’t need to be enforced, and we didn’t make a penny from them.
“The bus lanes are clearly signed and marked. We would rather that nobody used them as a short cut.
“However the enforcement cameras provide a deterrent, which is clearly needed as we can see from the numbers of people who continue to contravene the regulations.”
Coun Motala argued that far from making “a really positive difference,” the bus lanes and their cameras are driving many people away from visiting Preston, as well as just moving traffic congestion to different parts of the city.
“I live in the Frenchwood area and traffic problems caused by diverting drivers away from bus lanes are a nightmare for a lot of people in our neighbourhood,” he said.
“All it is doing is creating more problems in other areas which didn’t have problems before. Far from being positive, I’d say bus lanes have had a negative impact on certain parts of the city.
“They have closed off a lot of areas from traffic and made it worse for others.
“I am disabled and one day, when I was going to a meeting at County Hall, it took me almost an hour and a half to get there from home. I was sitting in my car stuck in traffic from 4:15pm to after 5:30pm.
“Had I been able to go down Fishergate then it would probably have taken me no more than five minutes. But it can be a two-mile detour to get from the top of Mount Street to Corporation Street - just because something like 50 yards of Fishergate is closed to all but buses, black cabs and bicycles.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if the traffic management system worked better in Preston. But the traffic lights are badly phased so it’s stop and start and congestion just gets worse.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Preston gets a congestion charge system in years to come. And that will drive even more people out of the city. So there will be no-one and nothing left.”