Belfast bus lane cameras rake in £1m in three months
Motorists have been hit with fines totalling at least £1m in just three months after they were caught driving in Belfast's bus lanes, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The number of penalties issued since a controversial crackdown began in June has already passed 20,000.
One camera near the City Hall has snapped more than 8,500 drivers.
It has led to fresh criticism with one MLA branding the system "plain stupid".
John Dallat, who sits on the Assembly's regional development committee, said the system was turning motorists into criminals.
"It is quite clear that little planning and even less thought was put into this scheme," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Motorists are not stupid people and yet they are being caught in their thousands.
"It is soul-destroying to see ordinary, decent people who have never committed an offence in their lives being whacked like this."
There are more than 60 bus lanes across Belfast, covering 30 miles.
They were introduced in 2012 as part of the Belfast on the Move traffic plan. Another lane will operate in west Belfast from Monday.
Since June motorists who drive in the lanes face a £90 fine, reduced to £45 if paid in two weeks.
Figures obtained by this newspaper show that between June 22 and September 30, a total of 21,772 fines were issued.
Based on the minimum £45 fine, the cameras will have scooped at least £979,740.
The areas where drivers are most frequently caught are:
- Donegall Square East: 8,511 penalties;
- Castle Street: 6,017 penalties;
- Great Victoria Street: 4,935 penalties;
- College Square East: 568 penalties;
- East Bridge Street: 495 penalties;
- Falls Road: 334 penalties.
Last month the Belfast Telegraph reported that 15,128 drivers were fined in the eight weeks after the fine system was introduced.
The latest release of figures show the number of fines is falling, but 215 drivers are still being caught every day on average. Mr Dallat said the zero-tolerance approach would deter visitors to Belfast.
"The city has become like a game of snakes and ladders - although there are a lot more snakes," he added.
"I was in Belfast last week and saw several people driving in the bus lanes.
"I know from their registration numbers that they were from outside Belfast, and they are going home to receive fines of £45 or more. That is enough to put anybody off from ever visiting Belfast again."
DRD officials denied that bus lane cameras were aimed at generating cash, saying they target drivers who use the road illegally.
However, Mr Dallat accused officials of behaving "like ostriches".
"They just will not accept there is a problem," he added.
"They are catching innocent people who are not law breakers but simply don't understand or can't cope with this system.
"All the time they are raking in money. It is a very immoral way to be collecting it.
"The whole scheme is driven by what happened in Dublin, but that was properly thought out over many years.
"In trying to do that in a different city with different traffic issues so quickly is plain stupid."
New bus lanes will become operational in west Belfast from Monday.
They have been added between the Grosvenor Road and Whiterock Road and will operate Monday to Friday during peak hours, between 7.30am and 9.30am, and 3.30pm to 6.30pm.
A DRD spokesperson said: "The vast majority of drivers obey the rules of the road, other drivers, however, choose to illegally use bus lanes.
"The enforcement measures are aimed at those drivers who illegally use bus lanes to jump queues and cut across traffic.
"These drivers can be a hazard to themselves, other road users, cyclists and pedestrians.
"They can also delay the progress of passengers opting to use our sustainable public transport service.
"Enforcement of bus lanes is not aimed at raising revenue as the number of penalty charge notices issued will depend on driver behaviour.
"Any surplus monies over the running costs will be invested in other transport measures."
Bus lane fines in Belfast area
Albertbridge Road: 11
Andersonstown Road: 12
Antrim Road: 69
Castle Street: 6,017
Castlereagh Road: 7
Chichester Street: 2
College Square East: 568
Cregagh Road: 5
Donegall Square East: 8,511
Donegall Square South: 275
East Bridge Street: 495
Falls Road: 334
Great Victoria Street: 4,935
Kingsway, Dunmurry: 31
Lisburn Road: 13
Ormeau Road: 63
Saintfield Road: 57
Shankill Road: 6
Shore Road: 208
Upper Lisburn Road, Finaghy: 20
Upper Newtownards Road, Dundonald: 44
Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast: 6
Upper Queen Street: 11
Victoria Street: 13
Whitewell Road: 3
Woodstock Road: 13
York Road: 20
York Street: 17
* Source: Department for Regional Development
** Figures relate to period between June 22-September 30