Belfast bus lane cameras catch 270 drivers a day a fears grow blitz will deter shoppers from city centre
A crackdown on the illegal use of Belfast's bus lanes has led to 15,000 drivers being fined in just two months, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
A staggering 270 motorists a day were snapped in eight weeks - leading to fears that the blitz will drive people out of the city.
The most prolific camera, at Donegall Square East, caught more than 5,700 motorists.
In total the cameras have scooped at least £680,000 - already 36% over the revenue target officials had set for the entire year.
The statistics have led to fresh criticism of the controversial cameras.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said: "This has been a daft scheme that simply hasn't worked."
Mr Dallat, who sits on the Assembly's regional development committee, warned it would deter people from coming to the city.
"It will come to the stage where people simply won't go to Belfast to do their shopping," he added.
"Traffic laws should be very simple and easy to follow, and I don't believe for one minute that 15,000 people are deliberately going out to make life difficult for buses.
"The whole system needs to be looked at again."
Bus lanes were introduced on a number of Belfast's busiest streets in September 2012.
It was part of the Belfast On The Move traffic plan, which gives priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.
There are now 30 miles of bus lanes at 64 locations across the city. The most recent lane opened on the busy Upper Newtownards Road last month.
Earlier this year the Department for Regional Development, which has responsibility for transport, announced it would fine motorists who drove in the lanes.
After a three-week warning period officials began issuing penalties on June 22.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show 15,128 drivers were fined in the eight weeks to August 16.
The vast majority (14,467) were caught by one of six fixed cameras operating permanently in the city centre.
The most prolific camera is at Donegall Square East, where 5,727 motorists were snapped.
- 3,745 motorists caught at Great Victoria Street.
- 3,637 motorists caught at Castle Street.
- 588 motorists caught at College Square East.
- 495 motorists caught at East Bridge Street.
- And 275 motorists caught at Donegall Square South.
Another 661 drivers were caught by a mobile camera unit operating at various locations around Belfast.
The most common detection point was the Falls Road, where 269 people were nabbed in eight weeks.
Another 131 were caught on the Shore Road.
The figures were released after a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper.
Mr Dallat called for an urgent rethink on the cameras.
"You have people who have probably never broken a law in their life and who now are being landed with fines," he added.
Based on the maximum £90 fine each offender faces, the cameras could have raked in more than £1.3m.
Even if all the fines were reduced to £45 - as happens if they are paid within two weeks - they would still have generated £680,000.
It means the £500,000 target which DRD hoped to raise annually will have been met inside eight weeks.
Mr Dallat added: "That can hardly be regarded as a success story. In fact, I would interpret it as a total failure.
"Of course these schemes are managed by private enterprise.
"Money-making is their motivation and not the management of traffic."
DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, who chairs the Assembly's regional development committee, said that he was alarmed at the scale of the fines. But he said enforcement was necessary to ensure people respected the bus lanes.
"The figures are alarming, however, the purpose is to try and educate people not to use the bus lanes," he said.
Mr Clarke added: "People are now very familiar that the bus lanes are there, and the whole purpose is to force people not to use them."
DRD figures also show that 888 fines were cancelled in the eight weeks, including 730 scrapped as the result of a well-publicised system glitch.
Last month it emerged 118 penalties sent out between June 22 and July 21 had been wrongly issued.
In another 612 cases incorrect camera settings meant the time stamp on penalty notices was inaccurate, and these were also cancelled.
DRD was unable to say why the remaining 158 fines were cancelled.
A DRD spokesperson said: "While the vast majority of drivers obey the rules of the road, other drivers choose to illegally use bus lanes.
"The enforcement measures are aimed squarely at the drivers who illegally use bus lanes to jump queues and cut across traffic.
"These drivers can be a hazard to themselves, other road users, cyclists and pedestrians.
"They can also delay the progress of passengers opting to use our sustainable public transport service," the spokesperson concluded.