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INSIDE TRACK: Bus lanes drive a questionable source of revenue

DURING a visit to York at the weekend, I encountered a novel example of what browbeaten drivers might call "the war on motorists".

Parking charges and bus lane penalties are already high on the hate list for Scots car owners convinced they are less to do with reducing congestion and more to do with boosting councils' coffers, but the good people of York have been shelling out more than £3000 a day since their council banned cars, motorbikes and lorries from using a city centre bridge at peak times.

It was easy to see why: even walking across it was difficult to spot the signs advising drivers to keep off, and we saw two cars commit the £60-generating error in less than the couple of minutes it took to cross from one side of the Lendal Bridge to the other.

Tourists are among the most likely to fall foul of the ban, introduced in August for a six-month trial, and it occurred to me that local authorities north of the Border might be keen to mimic the money-spinning scheme in their own beauty spots. St Andrews, Oban, Inverness - all picturesque tourist towns that could select a random street or bridge for a car ban and watch the fines roll in.

The pattern is well-established in regard to bus-lane camera fines. The Herald reported last year that Glasgow City Council had earned £4.8 million, or £11,000 a day, in bus-lane penalties in the first 18 months since cameras had gone live.

Since then, five so-called supercameras capable of catching 50 times as many drivers have been launched in the city.

This week, figures for Edinburgh revealed that motorists in the capital had paid out more than £1.4m in bus-lane fines since April 2012, prompting the Alliance of British Drivers to claim the driving public was being milked.

Hostility to the schemes is aggravated by almost comical cases of motorists fined for pulling into bus lanes to give way to fire engines or turning into their drives.

The same suspicion often surrounds ever-increasing urban parking fees. Glasgow City Council chiefs were criticised last November for increasing city centre parking charges by 25% when one road, West Campbell Street, was already generating £800 a day in parking fees. In areas of the south side, parking fees ballooned by 300% from 20p to 80p an hour. However, with council tax frozen for the seventh year in a row in Scotland, many local authorities have turned to fines and fees as a dependable source of income to plug the gap. So, perhaps motorists should lay the blame for the proliferation of bus lane cameras and spiralling charges at John Swinney's door?

It is also worth considering what is fair to other road users, besides motorists. Bus lanes should mean more efficient journeys for passengers, while parking fees are in principle a quick fix for congestion, encouraging a switch to cycling or public transport.

Most city dwellers probably struggle to see the amount raised reflected by improvements in their travelling experience. Think of potholes and a shortage of cycle lanes.

At the very least, that is where the money should be spent.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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