According to data obtained by the RAC, drivers in the 20 largest cities around the UK have received over one million penalty charge notices (PCNs) over the last year for driving in bus lanes. Figures from a Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiry showed that between 2015-17 over 3.4 million people received a fixed penalty notice for this.

Bus lane penalties can be very different in cost, but the RAC estimates that these charges have amounted to a staggering £200 million across three years – around £68 million each year in extra income for local councils.

A common mistake

In their press release on the topic, the RAC looked at city councils in London and around the UK. It showed that there had been a 5% rise in the actual number of penalty charge notices issued for bus lane misuse from 2015 until 2017. This figure was higher outside London with a 9% increase over the time frame while inside the capital, the number had dropped by 5%.

The greatest concern for the RAC is that many drivers aren’t deliberately misusing bus lanes but rather there is poor or confusing road signs meaning that it has become a common mistake. And it’s also one that local councils are quick to punish. That’s why they are calling for a review of national signage guidelines and other steps including the use of ‘smart bus lanes’ to make it easier and clearer for motorists.

Varied picture across the country

The picture when comparing the different cities presents a varied one. The data analysed by the RAC showed that Manchester City Council issued the most notices between 2015-17, totalling over 350,000 and a massive 172,311 in 2017 – an increase of 175% on the 2015 figure. Second place was Glasgow with over 339,000 across the two years. Followed by Cardiff (267,00+), Bradford (208,000+) and Nottingham (194,000+).

Birmingham City Council topped the list of the councils that saw the highest increases. The city has 19 miles of bus lanes and sent out 2,368% more fines for infringements in 2017 than in 2015. It is despite there being no extra bus lanes or even any more cameras supervising them. Three of the London boroughs – Croydon, Havering, and Southwark – also saw increases of 787%, 439%, and 187% respectively.

Overall, the picture in London was varied. Of the 33 local authorities, 27 provided information for the study. Of these, half had seen a rise in the number of bus lane fines while half had recorded a decrease in penalties for the period 2015-17.

Confusing picture

The complete picture is a confusing one. Bristol has the most enforcement cameras, numbering 51 and issued an average of 944 fines per camera. But Manchester had just 22 and issued the equivalent of 7,832 penalties per camera. Lewisham Council in London had the highest total number of PCNs per camera, with one bus lane camera issuing a shocking 9261 notices in a year.

RAC spokesman, Simon Williams, admitted that bus lanes have a vital role to play in keeping city centres moving. But, the sheer number of fines that councils are issuing suggests there is a bigger problem. And, they firmly believe this is because people don’t realise they are breaking the rules.

They are campaigning for better signage and a reduction of ‘clutter’ that can mean it is easy for drivers to miss them. They also advocate the use of modern technology that could make better use of available road space in a similar way to smart motorways.

Handling a fine

Fines for bus lane violations vary across councils with London the highest at £160, or £80 if paid quickly. Most cities average around £60. Motorists who receive one can often get a discounted rate if they pay speedily but need to be aware that the cost can increase if they take more than 28 days to pay.

The only advice we can provide is to make sure you steer well clear of bus lanes if you know that they are in operation, many now have cameras monitoring their use as this research confirms, so don’t risk it. But also, be aware that if you are driving in an unfamiliar location and accidentally drive on a bus lane without realising, stating that you didn’t know it was there may be an acceptable defence if you appeal against the fine, but it is solely at the discretion of the council when you appeal.

Have you ever had a penalty notice for driving in a bus lane? Did you know what you were doing or were you unaware until the fine came through? Do you think this is a cash cow for the councils and being misused? Let us know in the comments.

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