Retail NI hits out at 'overzealous' traffic wardens as 40,000 parking and bus lane fines issued in three months
Drivers in Northern Ireland could have shelled out up to £3.5m on nearly 40,000 parking and bus lane fines in the first three months of this year.
A total of 38,491 penalties were issued from January to March, a report has shown.
Motorists who contravene parking or bus lane regulations can be fined up to £90. This is halved if the fine is paid within 14 days.
On the basis of the maximum fine, the total revenue could have topped £3,460,000.
The details emerged in statistics from the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) yesterday.
Its Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) Statistics bulletin revealed that almost half (46%) of the 24,154 on-street parking fines were issued in Belfast.
It also showed that 76% of the 5,208 PCNs relating to bus lane violations in Greater Belfast were issued on three city centre roads - Great Victoria Street (32%), Donegall Square East (29%) and College Square East (15%).
Glyn Roberts from Retail NI hit out at what he branded "overzealous" traffic wardens and warned that DfI's strategy is adversely impacting on traders.
"This is like groundhog day, we keep seeing these stats reveal the same issues over and over again and we know the clear impact it is having on the retail sector," he said.
Mr Roberts has met with departmental officials and written to the permanent secretary, Peter May, to express "real fears", which he says must be taken seriously.
He also called for a fairer approach to traffic enforcement after it emerged that no penalties at all were issued in at least 27 towns.
"Northern Ireland has twice the average rate of shop vacancies in the UK," Mr Roberts added.
"We have to have a level playing field and an approach which delivers for all town centres and the entire retail industry - otherwise people will just go to out-of-town supermarkets."
The stats also show that the number of PCNs issued on behalf of councils for off-street parking offences totalled 9,129, with the highest number dished out in Fermanagh and Omagh (13%).
Drivers in Antrim and Newtownabbey, which accounted for 2% of fines, were the least affected - in Belfast the figure was 11%.
Belfast City councillor Jim Rodgers also called for a change to the "unfair" system which, he warned, is driving shoppers away from the city centre.
"We as a council are on a big drive to pull visitors in and yet at the same time DfI is pushing them out," he said.
"Visitors who are not familiar with the layout of the roads and complicated bus lane system are being caught out and then choosing not to come back - that is having a negative impact on footfall."
A spokesperson for DfI said its aim is to reduce the number of illegally-parked vehicles and unauthorised vehicles using bus lanes and not generate revenue.
"This, in turn, will reduce traffic congestion, improve road safety, improve accessibility for all road users, including Blue Badge holders and improve bus journey times," they said.
"Making money is not an objective of enforcement. The objective is to discourage illegal parking and illegal use of bus lanes by issuing a penalty to those who park/drive illegally."