It's not fare as city bus sent Oxford Street fine

EVERY day, the number 44 bus carries thousands of passengers on its route between Balerno and Wallyford.

So managers at Lothian Buses were somewhat confused when one of their vehicles was issued with a traffic fine - on Oxford Street in London.

The City of Westminster Council demanded the Edinburgh bus company pay 100 for a number 44 caught illegally travelling along the world's largest shopping street. The London authority even included CCTV evidence of the alleged offence.

But Lothian Buses' own video cameras placed the vehicle 400 miles away - on the City Bypass as it returned to the depot.

The fine has now been cancelled, and a clerical error blamed for the mix-up.

George McKendrick, Lothian Buses' operations manager said today: "At first I thought it was someone playing a joke but when I studied the offence they really did think our bus had been on Oxford Street.

"During my 30 years in the bus industry, I've known of a few buses to get lost but this one tops them all - being able to get from the City Bypass to Oxford Street and back to our Longstone depot in 17 minutes surely must be a record."

The incident happened at 6.31pm on July 5 last year. According to the penalty notice, vehicle registration number SN55 BNU - which belongs to a distinctive number 44 Lothian bus - was spotted by cameras "using a route restricted to certain vehicles".

Only taxis and London service buses are allowed on the street, so Lothian Buses was given 28 days to pay the 100 fine.

The CCTV capture sent by Westminster Council showed four double-decker buses, as well as a black cab and one car on Oxford Street - but did not identify the offending vehicle.

Lothian Buses immediately disputed the fine, and supplied photos of the bus in question.

The firm also included captures from the vehicle's on-board CCTV cameras, which show the bus travelling around the City Bypass at precisely 6.31pm. Only nine minutes later, footage also shows the bus at its Longstone depot.

And Lothian Buses supplied a print-out of when and where the bus re-fuelled that day, which is recorded by a number plate recognition system, depot allocation sheets, the electronic information recorded by the ticket machine, and real-time data from that day's timetable as the bus travelled between Wallyford and Balerno.

In his letter to Westminster Council, Mr McKendrick said: "In conclusion, I can only suggest that either your camera system is inaccurate or the registration number for our bus has been cloned for use on another vehicle."

The Evening News contacted Westminster Council yesterday evening and was provided with more CCTV footage from July 5 on Oxford Street. A close-up picture reveals the offending vehicle is actually a car, with a marginally different number plate.

A spokesman then admitted the mistake was a clerical error, either by staff in Westminster or at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency that supplies ownership details.

He said: "We apologise for any inconvenience caused, or any time spent [by Lothian Buses] dealing with this complaint."