A COUNCIL crackdown on the illegal use of bus lanes descended into farce today after it emerged that a motorist was fined for driving in a Greenway before the enforcement period even began.
Janice Warnes, who had previously backed the council’s controversial Greenway scheme, received a £60 fine for driving in a bus lane on Willowbrae Road at 7.29am and 57 seconds – three seconds before the cameras are supposed to turn on.
The Evening News can also reveal that drivers are facing up to a two-and-a-half week wait to receive fines, meaning they could be racking up hundreds of pounds’ worth of penalties without yet knowing it.
The council has also admitted that during a three-week trial period before enforcement began, not every motorist who was caught in a Greenway was issued with a warning letter.
Motoring organisations reacted angrily to the revelations, accusing the local authority of incompetence and called on the city’s new administration to sort out the mess.
Ms Warnes, who was driving from the city centre when she briefly cut into the bus lane before the enforcement period, said: “We received the letter this morning and couldn’t understand because the time on the fine says 7.29am 57 seconds. It’s either a mistake or the cameras come into operation earlier than the council says they do.
“Now I’m worried how much earlier they start. I drove through at 7.28am this morning, before I got the letter through the door, so I’ll have to wait and see if I’ll get fined for that as well.”
Ms Warnes said she has always stuck to the rules of the road but argues the council must do the same.
She said: “I do actually think the system is a good idea. I always stick to the rules but the council need to as well. It’s really quite unfair they’re charging people outside the times. But the worst thing is if you appeal you lose the chance to pay the £30 discount fine and could end up with the £60 fine.”
A council spokeswoman refused to comment on individual cases but said Ms Warnes, who runs a cleaning firm, was entitled to appeal and that any errors would be rectified then.
But Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said Ms Warnes should not have to go through the stress and effort of making an appeal when she had done nothing wrong.
“It is just unbelievable,” he said. “The ticket says itself that it is not legal. The cameras have to agree 100 per cent with the signposting. This is exactly the sort of thing that will undermine public confidence in the system.”
Other motorists accused the council of unfairness after they received fines two-and-a-half weeks after the cameras caught them in bus lanes.
Fiona Patterson received two notices on Friday, 17 days after she was snapped temporarily passing in to the Willowbrae Road Greenway as she turned into her home street of Willowbrae Avenue.
Ms Warnes and Ms Patterson are among 4593 drivers who were fined for infringements in the first six days of the new system coming into force.
“Rather than doing a hard left at the junction I moved into the bus lane temporarily,” she said. “The ticket said I had to be in it for at least 10 seconds but I’m sure it was less than that. Now I’m worried that I’m going to have hundreds of pounds’ worth of tickets dropping through the door all week because of where I drove weeks ago.”
The council said that the large number of people being caught meant it was taking longer than expected to issue notices, and that the system had been designed so drivers were not penalised for minor or accidental infringements.
But Mr Greig hit out over how long it was taking the authority to issue the penalties.
“It is just incompetence,” he said. “People could be racking up fines without even realising it. It could also make it harder to appeal as people’s memories could fade.
“They should have had the system set up and ready – their excuse is very poor indeed.”
The situation has echoes of the controversy over the introduction of the so-called Blue Meanies in the 1990s.
When parking in the city was decriminalised the local authority’s new wardens were criticised for issuing too many penalty notices leading to anger on the streets and tales of drivers being unfairly penalised.
Tickety boo hoo under Meanies rule
PARKING in the Capital was decriminalised in 1998, with the city council introducing its own attendants – the notorious Blue Meanies – to replace police parking wardens.
In November 2002, Scotland’s rugby players were left stunned after a parking attendant slapped their bus with a ticket at the MacDonald Holyrood Hotel (1). Driver Dennis Wells complained, but was told: “If they’re the Scotland rugby team then they can afford to pay it.”
Restaurateur Malcolm Duck led a campaign for reduced parking fines for business owners in 2006 after racking up a ticket a month outside his eatery in the New Town (2).
MS sufferer Frances Hawarden found herself bombarded with parking tickets after leaving her car outside her own home in Merchiston while on holiday and despite having a resident’s permit (3).
And in 2003, a hearse owned by MacKenzie and Millar Funeral Directors was ticketed in Great Junction Street as it waited to go to a funeral (4).
Drivers not given warnings
NOT every motorist who was caught illegally driving in the city’s Greenways during the camera’s initial trial period was issued with a warning letter, it emerged today.
The cameras were in operation for three weeks before the £60 fines came into force, with warning letters dished out to drivers.
Today, it emerged only 3673 warning letters were sent out in the initial three-week period, around 1000 fewer than the number of motorists who were fined in the first six days of enforcement alone.
The council said the cameras were not always operational during the trial period while they were moved about and tested. It had also been suggested that drivers would only be sent one warning letter, even if they were caught multiple times.
But the council finally admitted yesterday they had decided not to send out letters to every motorist who had been recorded.
Neil Greig, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “This shows that they didn’t learn from their mistakes. If they’re now saying their administration can’t cope, they got fair notice of that in the trial run.
“This whole thing should have been a positive story about stopping the minority, but it’s turned into a massive own goal. This is the last thing Edinburgh needs after the trams and parking management.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The majority of motorists caught during the three-week trial period will have been issued with warning letters.
“However, the number of drivers infringing bus lane regulations during the trial period was significantly greater than expected and resulted in some letters not being issued as they would not have been delivered before full enforcement commenced.”