2,000 drivers fined for using Belfast's bus lanes during dead of night
Exclusive: Roads minister demands review after latest controversy over penalties
More than 2,000 people have been fined for driving in Belfast's bus lanes - in the dead of night when buses aren't even running.
In many cases motorists did not realise cameras were rolling 24 hours a day. One driver said he had been ticketed twice in the space of 30 minutes outside Central Station at 1am in the morning. Roads Minister Chris Hazzard has now asked for the matter to be reviewed.
City centre buses do not run at night.
It is the latest controversy to hit the city's bus lanes, which have been strongly criticised over the high number of fines issued to drivers. The Belfast Telegraph reported in September how one camera had scooped £1m in just 15 months.
South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford said it was "absurd" to fine people for using the bus lanes at night.
"I am astounded by the figures that the Belfast Telegraph has obtained," he said.
"It is becoming increasingly clear to a lot of people that the bus lanes and the cameras on them are a money-spinner, rather than making it easier to move people around Belfast."
Bus lanes were introduced in 2012 as part of the Belfast on the Move traffic plan, to help get people around the city more quickly.
Since June 2015, motorists who drive in the lanes have faced a £90 fine, which is reduced to £45 if paid in two weeks.
There are more than 60 bus lanes across the city.
Two operate 24 hours a day - even though no buses operate in Belfast through the night.
These are at East Bridge Street, which runs past Central Station, and Castle Street, which is a buses-only street.
Figures obtained by this newspaper after a Freedom of Information request show a total of 2,205 fines were issued at both locations between midnight and 6am.
The fines were issued in a 16-month period between June 2015 and September this year.
A handful of buses do run to Dublin, Derry and the two airports. Yet the city centre services - which the lanes were supposed to benefit - are not in operation through the night.
Mr Stalford added: "It is absurd to be fining people for being in a bus lane when there are no buses running.
"That needs to change. It is completely unfair to penalise people like this."
The disclosure will add to the growing criticism of bus lanes.
The Belfast Telegraph recently reported how the cameras had raised more than £2.7m in their first 15 months.
Up to August 31 this year, a total of 51,811 penalty charge notices were issued. They were worth a combined £2,729,021 - or £6,245 a day on average.
One camera, at Donegall Square East beside City Hall, was responsible for 17,972 penalties being issued to city centre commuters in just 15 months. That camera alone had generated fines totalling £975,242 by the end of August.
The other hotspots are Castle Street, where drivers have been issued with 14,184 fines, worth £706,366, and Great Victoria Street, where 8,167 fines worth £442,978 have been generated.
Mr Stalford added: "The whole idea of charging people for accidentally driving into bus lanes needs to be looked at again."
The Department for Infrastructure said minister Chris Hazzard was looking at the policy of fining people for using the lanes at night.
A spokesperson said: "Castle Street between Fountain Street and Donegall Place is currently a no-entry street for all vehicles except buses and bicycles.
"This is to stop traffic using the city centre as a short cut when travelling either east or west between High Street and Millfield.
"It also facilitates south-only bus movements on Donegall Place, by allowing north bound buses to use Queens Street and Castle Street.
"The minister has asked officials to look at the restrictions within this area of Belfast to ascertain if changes to existing prohibitions can be made."
Previously, officials have denied that Belfast's bus lanes are aimed at raising money.
In September 2015 Ciaran de Burca told MLAs from Stormont's regional development committee that the level of fines incurred was a surprise.
While he admitted the department's finances were "in the red", Mr de Burca said the scheme was not a money-making operation.