Cars to be clamped and towed away in Belfast bus lane crackdown
A fresh crackdown on motorists who illegally use Belfast's bus lanes will come into force next month.
Roads minister Chris Hazzard yesterday announced extra measures to cut the number of vehicles illegally driving and parking in the lanes and clearways.
From next month a mobile CCTV enforcement vehicle will park on footpaths to enforce bus lane restrictions.
There are also plans to clamp and forcibly remove offending vehicles.
Mr Hazzard said: "Bus lanes play a vital role in creating a modern and effective transport network and contribute to a reduction in congestion and environmental pollution."
"Allowing the mobile CCTV vehicle to park safely on footpaths where enforcement is currently not possible will increase enforcement coverage and will help to reduce the number of vehicles continuing to drive illegally in bus lanes."
The vehicle clamping and removal operation for bus lanes and clearways will come into effect later this year.
It will target drivers who park during the operational hours of bus lanes and clearways on the main arterial routes into and out of Belfast.
Mr Hazzard explained: "It is of great concern that vehicles continue to park in bus lanes and urban clearway routes during operational hours, causing significant delays and congestion for commuters on their journeys to and from work.
"All it takes is one inconsiderate driver to leave their vehicle parked illegally in a bus lane or on a clearway for a short period of time, causing inconvenience to countless others.
"These illegally parked vehicles can cause delays and congestion for several hours, not only in the immediate location, but also in the surrounding areas.
"To deal with this problem I plan to deploy an enforcement vehicle to carry out the removal and clamping of illegally parked vehicles in bus lanes and on clearways."
But the move was criticised by Glyn Roberts from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, who raised concerns over the number of fines issued.
Mr Roberts said: "Given the depth of concern many city centre retailers have with the over-zealous fining policy in regard to the bus lanes, it is disappointing that the minister has decided to tighten enforcement."
It was also announced yesterday that three 24-hour bus lanes the city would no longer operate around the clock.
The lanes at East Bridge Street, the Saintfield Road and the Upper Newtownards Road will be in use for 12 hours - 7am to 7pm - from Monday week, January 23.
It follows controversy over fines issued to hundreds of drivers even when buses were not running. The Belfast Telegraph reported last November that more than 2,000 people had been fined for driving in bus lanes between the hours of midnight and 6am.
City centre buses do not run at night, with the latest one ending before midnight.
Figures obtained by this newspaper revealed that 115 of these were fines issued on East Bridge Street and 2,090 fines issued on the Castle Street bus lane.
Mr Roberts said: "Reducing three bus lanes from 24 to 12 hours is a welcome and common sense decision.
"It was clearly unfair to fine drivers using bus lanes when buses were not even running."