Motorists now facing £90 fine for using Belfast bus lanes
Controversial fines for Belfast drivers beating congestion by using bus lanes come into full force today.
A three-week warning period for motorists has ended, with strict penalties now on the cards for car users driving on public transport routes on six busy roads in Belfast.
The congested streets will be monitored by fixed cameras and a seventh roving camera on the move to catch drivers illegally using bus lanes to jump queues and cut across traffic.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said the crackdown included a simple message for Belfast's motorists.
"At the beginning of June I introduced measures to reduce the number of drivers illegally using bus lanes," he said.
"To help drivers realise that if they ignored the restrictions they would risk a fine I applied a three-week warning period when offenders would receive a warning letter. That warning period has now ended.
"The advice is simple: observe the bus lane restriction and avoid the likelihood of a fine."
The £90 fines for abusing bus lanes will be reduced to £45 if paid within 14 days and drivers will have the right to appeal a penalty.
Cameras will be fixed in Belfast city centre at Castle Street, East Bridge Street, Donegall Square East, Donegall Square South, Great Victoria Street and College Street East.
The Department of Regional Development insisted the 50km of bus lanes in greater Belfast were clearly marked and can be used by buses with more than nine seats, public hire taxis, emergency vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles.
However, the introduction of the cameras has proven to be controversial, with some claiming that they are little more than a money-making scheme.
Hitting out at the cameras when they were announced last month, DRD committee member David McNarry said: "It's about time motorists were given a break.
"In fact, bus lanes cause the most congestion and should be withdrawn from service completely and an end put to all this nonsense."
The Ukip MLA added: "It's bad enough having to drive through Belfast without having to worry about cameras and fines.
"This is just a money-making racket, another tax on hard-pressed motorists. It will also be a visitor's nightmare. We are trying to attract tourists and then we'll just slap them with a fine if they stray into a bus lane."
The man behind the scheme, Ciaran de Burca, director for transport projects at the DRD, estimated that around 15,000 fines will be issued annually -more than 40 a day. This would amount to £500,000 in fines every year.
When the scheme was launched Mr de Burca insisted that it was "not anti-motorist". He said it was about "making life safer and better for everyone".
Money raised from the camera scheme will be pumped back into the transport system, he said.