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Officials to be grilled after bus lane cameras turn 15,000 into law-breakers in just 8 weeks

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 12/09/2015

Some 15,000 drivers have fallen foul of new bus lane cameras already
Some 15,000 drivers have fallen foul of new bus lane cameras already
Some 15,000 drivers have fallen foul of new bus lane cameras already
Some 15,000 drivers have fallen foul of new bus lane cameras already

Officials will be hauled in front of a Stormont committee to explain why so many people are being fined for driving in Belfast's bus lanes.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed this week how 270 motorists are caught each day.

More than 15,000 penalties were issued in the first eight weeks of the crackdown, with one camera alone snapping 5,700 vehicles.

It led one MLA to accuse the Department for Regional Development (DRD) of turning thousands of motorists into law-breakers.

John Dallat also warned the blitz risked driving people out of Belfast.

The DRD's 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 Dallat told the committee: "I'm just wondering is it time we had the department in front of us again because penalty notices, I would have thought, are to punish the few people who are deliberately infinging rules and regulations."

Mr Dallat said the high number of fines indicated something was badly wrong.

"Surely there must be something wrong that we're not catching the minority of people who are causing problems but actually catching thousands of people who are, I would have thought, not deliberately coming into Belfast to flout the law," he added.

Bus lanes were introduced in September 2012 as part of the Belfast On The Move traffic plan.

Earlier this year it was announced that motorists who drove in the 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.

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.

Mr Dallat said the fines were deterring people from visiting Belfast. "I just wouldn't want to come into Belfast because I don't want to pay £45, and the easiest way is to go and do my business somewhere else," he added.

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, who chairs the committee, said all parties had supported a better public transport system.

"Part of that was bus lanes and trying to protect the route through Belfast," he said.

"I think all of us will be sceptical that it's seen as a money-raising or revenue-raising tool; however, if people are breaking the law, they are breaking the law."

Mr Dallat said he didn't accept that 15,000 people had come to Belfast to break the law.

"There has to be something wrong," he added.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said some of his East Belfast constituents had voiced concerns about the bus lanes.

"I think we are right to support priority bus lanes, however there does seem to be some issues with the Belfast bus lanes," he added.

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O hOisin said there was a lot of confusion around the scheme.

Mr Clarke agreed to bring officials before the committee to discuss the concerns.

Factfile

Belfast's bus lane cameras

College Sq East - 588 fines

Castle Street - 3,637 fines

Great Victoria St - 3,745 fines

Donegall Sq East - 5,727 fines

Donegall Sq South - 275 fines

East Bridge Street - 495 fines

Mobile cameras

(various) - 661 fines

Total: 15,128 fines

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