Belfast bus lane fines are outrageous, claims furious AA chief
The president of the UK's largest motoring organisation has said it is "outrageous" that 15,000 motorists were fined for driving in Belfast's bus lanes in just two months.
The AA's Edmund King vented his fury after this newspaper revealed that penalties have been issued at a rate of 270 a day.
In total the cameras have already netted at least £680,000 - well in excess of the revenue target set for the entire year. And the controversial crackdown has sparked fears that city centre trade could be hit.
Responding to the figures, Mr King called for the system to be overhauled. "These bus lanes should be reviewed. It is outrageous that 15,000 people have received fines in just two months.
"Drivers don't queue up to get fines but they are being treated like a cash machine", he said.
Bus lanes were introduced in September 2012 as part of the Belfast On The Move traffic plan.
Earlier this year it was announced motorists who drove in lanes would face a £90 fine, reduced to £45 if paid in two weeks.
Some 15,128 drivers were fined in the first eight weeks, between June 22 and August 16, according to figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.
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.
In the light of the statistics, one MLA has accused the Department for Regional Development of turning motorists into law-breakers.
John Dallat, who sits on the Assembly's DRD committee, also warned the blitz risked driving people out of Belfast. "It will come to the stage where people simply won't go to Belfast to do their shopping," he said.
The scrutiny committee has now decided to call officials from the department to hear its explanation for the fines, and a range of other issues with the controversial lanes.
Mr King said that camera enforcement of bus lanes appeared to be overtaking parking tickets as the major cause of complaint from UK drivers of alleged entrapment.
"Whilst we support the use of bus lanes in the right places, functioning at the right times, we are totally opposed to 'entrapment' cameras on poorly designed or poorly signed bus lane junctions," said Mr King.
"If thousands of drivers are getting tickets at the same junction then something is wrong and that junction/bus lane should be reviewed."