FINES totalling more than £300,000 have been dished out to drivers caught using Portsmouth’s bus lanes in just five months, The News can reveal.
Cameras on key city bus routes have snared 6,456 motorists who have then each been issued with a £60 ticket for using them to avoid heavy traffic.
That means the total cost of the penalty charge notices – issued between November and April – is a staggering £387,360.
The statistics reveal that 58 of the fines were cancelled on appeal – including 32 for hackney carriage vehicle drivers who can use bus lanes – taking the value down to £383,880.
But Tory councillor Ken Ellcome, who was in charge of traffic in the city during that time, insists it is not about the money, but rather to ensure public transport flows freely.
And rival parties agree the move has been for the greater good.
People need to learn the lesson that bus lanes are for buses, hackney carriages and cyclists.Portsmouth Tory traffic boss, Councillor Ken Ellcome
Cllr Ellcome said: ‘Irrespective of the money, that isn’t the point – the reason for the cameras is to keep the bus lanes clear to try to improve public transport and try and get it from A to B where possible. The money is the consequence of that. People shouldn’t be alarmed by these figures.
‘You could argue 6,000 drivers is a lot, but when you look at the fact there’s 20,000 to 30,000 vehicle movements in the city each day, I don’t think it’s a big number. People need to learn the lesson that bus lanes are for buses, hackney carriages and cyclists.’
The total amount paid back to the council by motorists may be lower if they paid within 14 days, as the cost of the fine is then discounted to £30.
Lib Dem traffic spokeswoman, Cllr Lynne Stagg, said: ‘If you have the added problem of cars parking in the bus lanes and driving down them, it makes it worse. Transport costs a lot of money to run.
‘The problem is unfortunately getting worse in the city.’
Portsmouth’s bus lane cameras were introduced on November 1 as part of a contract with traffic management firm Videalert.
The cameras aren’t permanently fixed and move across the bus network.
It comes despite Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the council, revealing her idea to open up all bus lanes to traffic and to review the introduction of the cameras. Cllr Jones said the information would be examined in the coming weeks.
TAXI BOSS SPEAKS OUT
TAXI firms continue to criticise the council over its stance on not allowing private hire cabs to use bus lanes.
Portsmouth’s traffic rules state hackney carriages can use public transport routes, but private hire cars operated by firms are banned.
Bruce Hall, general manager of Aqua Cars, said: ‘We have been lobbying the council for donkey’s years. We are supposed to be part of the transport plan for Portsmouth. Unfortunately, we don’t think the council will ever change its views, it seems to be stuck in its ways.’
‘Public transport must be given stronger say’
PUBLIC transport must be given more of a priority in Portsmouth.
That’s the message from campaigners who believe roads are still not safe enough for everyone to use.
While welcoming moves to fine drivers who use bus lanes, Portsmouth Cycle Forum believes there aren’t enough public transport routes to enforce and cars have been given special treatment.
And the campaign group has launched fresh criticism at the decision by Tory council leader, Cllr Donna Jones, to remove a section of the bus lane south of the M275 to ease congestion and improve journey times for motorists. Tory traffic boss Ken Ellcome had wanted to keep it in place, but was overruled.
Jon Spencer, chairman of Portsmouth Cycle Forum, said: ‘It remains to be seen whether safety has improved.
‘The Department for Transport will publish figures for accident statistics in Portsmouth, for the current year, in about a year’s time.
‘At the moment, it’s too early to say what effect the cameras have had on casualties.
‘I do fully support this. But it’s unfortunate one of the principal bus lanes, on the Mile End Road, was removed by Portsmouth City Council.
‘It would be nice if there were more bus lanes to protect.
‘There are quite a limited number in the city and in key areas, there is still not enough space for public transport and cyclists. The council, if it wants to resolve congestion, has to give more priority to public transport and cyclists.’