NEW cameras to crack down on drivers clogging up the city’s bus lanes have caught more than 3600 offenders within just three weeks of being switched on.
The cameras caught 3673 vehicles driving along Edinburgh’s Greenways this month and drivers have been issued with warning notices.
Fines were waived during the first three weeks of operation but would normally have netted council chiefs up to £220,000.
Today, motoring groups warned the council against using the cameras to “trap” drivers and bolster council coffers, and questions were raised over how well the new cameras had been publicised.
Early estimates put the minimum number of fines at between 2000 and 4000 annually. While the number of drivers flouting the law is expected to drop off dramatically after the first fines are issued, if they continued at the same level almost £4 million could be raised.
However, the figures were based on £60 fines and not the £30 charged if paid within 14 days.
The Association of British Motorists today accused the council of using the new system as a “revenue raising” tool and failing to address the real problems with the roads network.
But council leaders insist they want to hit a “hard core” of drivers who flagrantly ignore laws.
The Scottish Government handed enforcement of bus lanes to local authorities with the £30 police fine being replaced with a £60 penalty fine from Monday.
Brian MacDowall, a spokesman for the Association of British Motorists, said there were many cases where the introduction of bus lanes had placed strain on existing carriageways. He said: “In many cases lanes on the roads have been narrowed to allow the bus lane to be installed and there isn’t sufficient space for drivers.
“There is every likelihood you may stray into the bus lane in rush-hour traffic and get a huge fine. Drivers are effectively led into a trap.
“This is very bad road management and gives the suspicion it has only been introduced as a revenue-raising tool.”
The AA and the Institute of Advanced Motorists both said the number of drivers caught since April 2 was higher than expected and demonstrated the scale of the problem – but also warned of the pitfalls of the system.
Drivers in London and Manchester have been fined for straying into bus lanes while turning left or crossing to enter a business premises, according to motoring groups.
The AA said the majority of motorists were angered by fellow drivers cutting into bus lanes, but warned the new system was flawed.
Head of road policy Paul Watters said: “The London system has been successful. However, you really have to drive blindly to the rules because the cameras are there to get you.”
The enforcement scheme will cost around £120,000 to operate annually.
It is understood hundreds of vehicles were caught on the Greenways on the first two days of the scheme. However, there were concerns the Capital’s cameras hadn’t been well enough advertised.
Conservative councillor Alastair Paisley said: “I am very concerned that people will not know about this.”
James Binnie, assistant manager at the Jocks Lodge bar, which has seen a camera put up outside, added: “The council do not give you notice. None of our customers know about this.”
However, Lesley Hinds, Labour’s transport spokeswoman on the council, said there was cross-party support for the scheme. She added: “Unless we bring in this system of fines, people won’t abide by the rules.”
A council spokeswoman said: “Any income generated by fines will be ploughed back into running costs, with surplus being spent on local transport plans. However, it is expected that the recent awareness campaign will lead to less people breaking the rules.”
Gordon Mackenzie, the city’s transport leader, added: “The evidence from Manchester is that a hard core of around 80 per cent of drivers only changed their behaviour when fines were issued and that’s the stage we’ve reached.”
Warning to expect strict enforcement
DRIVERS have been warned to expect strict enforcement of the new bus lane scheme, with £60 fines – halved for paying in 14 days – imposed for those cutting into Greenways.
If a vehicle should stray into the lane during operational hours it will be automatically captured on camera.
Motoring groups say drivers have to be careful not to accidentally stray into the Greenways when preparing to turn at a junction as cameras are positioned in such a way that they will record the vehicle.
Five cameras – deployed on a rota at ten key locations around the city – use Automatic Number Plate Recognition to record vehicles that enter the Greenways.
Staff then discount all of the exempt vehicles such as buses, Hackney cabs and the emergency services and issue fines to the remainder.
Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “The law does contain provisions so you can cross a bus lane to get to a property, your home, for example, or if you’re forced off because of some emergency.
“However, it is common to stray into the bus lane when you’re approaching a turn. You really have to stick to the rules or you end up getting fines.”
Director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists
MOST drivers do not abuse bus lanes and they get very annoyed when they see the minority doing so.
The problem with bus lanes and cameras is the detail of where you place them.
Drivers might have to cross the bus lane for any number of reasons – one case in London saw an entire staff issued with tickets because they had to turn into a bus lane to get to the office.
The other aspect we have a concern about is cameras don’t know what is going on around them. They might not see an incident ahead that someone is swerving to avoid and so there must always be the ability to appeal.
We need to change the behaviour of that hard core who do as they please, but the council has to be careful of the detail as it could catch people who have no choice.
On a roll
PARKING regulations in central Edinburgh were “decriminalised” in 1998, sparking years of controversy as parking attendants nicknamed the Blue Meanies handed out tickets instead of police parking wardens.
The Meanies – named for their blue uniforms and tough enforcement of regulations-raised around £500,000 extra for council coffers in their first year of operations.
The News revealed how the attendants were given “league tables” with daily target, sparking claims that they targeted minor parking offences in a bid to hand out as many tickets as possible.