A council has been slammed for being ‘sneaky’ after nearly 5,000 motorists were fined for using a bus lane in the space of just 25 days.
Essex County Council introduced its ‘bus gate’ in Chelmsford city centre in 2011, with cars banned from using it to help ease congestion.
But officials at the authority only finally installed and switched on traffic enforcement cameras last month.
After the cameras went live 4,843 unsuspecting motorists were collared and hit with a £60 fine in less than a month, meaning the council could pocket nearly £300,000.
Motorists have branded Essex County Council ‘sneaky’ over this ‘bus gate’, pictured, in Chelmsford which cars are banned from using
Although warning signs, pictured, are in place, they have been ignored for years as traffic enforcement cameras were not installed
The deluge of fines has led to criticism from drivers – with many saying the signs are inadequate.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that 274 motorists have already appealed against their fines but the council said improved signage was already in place.
One driver hit with a fine fumed: ‘I think they council has been a bit sneaky in the way they’ve done this.
‘The supposed ban on using the bus lane came in years ago but everyone I knew ignored it.
‘I think they should have clearer signs so people know the cameras are finally up and running.
‘In an ideal world, we’d all be good boys and girls and not use the bus lane but in reality people knew they could use the bus gate as there was no enforcement.
‘To me, this looks like it is just plain greedy’.
The cameras, pictured, were turned on last month and almost 5,000 drivers were caught using the gate, with fines totalling almost £300,000 issued
Jack Cousens, from the AA, suggested the sheer volume of fines suggested there was a problem.
‘To have a bus lane issuing 186 tickets a day is excessive, and that means that something’s not right – either the design of the street is incorrect, or the signage is incorrect.
‘So, there has to be a fundamental problem there, and it’s very difficult for a council that has now suddenly got a revenue stream that it didn’t once have, to switch that off,’ he said.
The fines – or fixed penalty notices – are reduced to £30 if they are paid within 14 days.
The council informed people in May that the cameras would be installed which was followed by a grace period of several weeks when more than 3,000 people were issued with warning letters, but were not fined.
Ian Grundy, cabinet member for highways, said: ‘Up until recently enforcement was done by the police, but their resources are obviously limited and unfortunately drivers were taking advantage.
‘We were getting something like 400 vehicles a day illegally going under the bridge.
‘I’m pleased to say one thing this enforcement has done is to have brought the average down to under 200, so it does prove it’s working.’
Council traffic bosses say the reason for the delay in enforcement was because the police previously handled the gate
An Essex County Council spokesperson said: ‘It has been illegal to drive through the bus gate at Duke Street in Chelmsford since 2011.
‘Before turning on enforcement cameras, we increased signage at all junctions leading to the bus gate, sent more than 3,000 warning notices and painted the words ‘bus gate’ in large letters on the road at both entrances to help make drivers aware of the restrictions.
‘Since we began to issue penalty charge notices, the number of people illegally using the bus gate has more than halved from around 400 a day to less than 200.
‘This has helped to ensure buses at the nearby bus station can run on time, has stopped cars using the city centre as a rat-run and has increased safety for pedestrians using this busy junction close to Chelmsford railway station.
‘All money generated by PCNs is ring-fenced and reinvested to help improve public transport, roads and the transport network across Essex.’