Bus lane fines hit £115,000 after just one week in operation
A new crackdown on the illegal use of Belfast's bus lanes will rake in up to £115,000 in its first week, it has been revealed.
A staggering 1,273 motorists were snapped by cameras in the space of seven days.
They now face a £90 fine, although this will be reduced to £45 if paid within two weeks.
Based on the maximum penalty, the cameras could have scooped £114,570.
Even if all the fines are halved, it will still total £57,285 in just a week.
Officials previously said they hoped to generate £500,000 a year from the fines.
However, there was anger last night at the scale of the clampdown. Ukip MLA David McNarry said it was a "disaster", warning scores of motorists would be turned into criminals.
"The cameras are far from necessary," he said.
"We've gone too far, we are turning into a Big Brother society and are turning people who make mistakes into criminals."
Bus lanes were introduced in Belfast in October 2012.
Earlier this year legislation was passed allowing the Department for Regional Development to monitor and fine motorists using the lanes.
Six fixed cameras have been installed in Belfast city centre.
A mobile unit will also monitor the greater Belfast, Lisburn, Antrim and Newtownabbey areas.
After a three-week warning period, a fine system came into operation on June 22.
Drivers will be hit with a £90 fine - reduced to £45 if paid within two weeks - each time they use a bus lane.
In the seven days after the fines started, a total of 1,273 drivers were caught - an average of 180 a day.
The minimum £57,285 raised from the first week is over a tenth of DRD's projected annual income from the cameras.
Mr McNarry, a member of the Assembly's regional development committee, branded the cameras a money racket.
"People are going to be hit with fines which they can't afford," he added.
"The whole thing is a disaster. We are deterring the very people who pay the most towards the roads.
"It's easy money and a kick up the backside for motorists."
He said it was now incumbent on DRD to use the money to carry out basic repairs.
DRD has warned that routine services such as pothole repairs and trimming of grass verges would be affected by cutbacks.
"If they are making that sort of money and are going to persist with it, then get the grass cut," Mr McNarry added.
"If you're going to penalise motorists at least make life safe for them."
Officials have said the cameras are not intended to generate income.
However, they estimated they will issue around 15,000 fines a year - more than 40 a day.
DRD previously said the money would be reinvested in the public transport network.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy said: "The advice is simple, observe the bus lane restriction and avoid the possibility of a fine."
In Belfast cameras are situated at Castle Street, East Bridge Street, Donegall Square East, Donegall Square South, Great Victoria Street and College Street East.
The crackdown on drivers using Belfast's bus lanes began on June 22, with the introduction of six new bus lane cameras in the city centre and a mobile detection unit. The mobile unit is monitoring main roads into the city including the Shore Road, Lisburn Road and Ormeau Road. Anyone caught breaching bus lane rules is fined £90, but the total is reduced to £45 if paid within two weeks. The DRD said 1,273 penalty charge notices had been issued to motorists for driving in bus lanes in the week commencing June 22.