Council income from bus lane fines set to drop by 80 per cent

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Essex County Council says services paid for by bus lane fines will have to be reviewed, after anticipating an 80 per cent drop off in the amount it takes from bus lane enforcement.

Over three months the council will see income from bus lane contraventions drop by £700,000.

If the restrictions last six months it will be down £1.4 million.

Essex Highways continues to enforce bus lanes and bus gates.

But traffic data has shown a dramatic drop off in journeys.

On Tuesday, March 25 , the day after the Prime Minister’s announcement of more extreme measures, traffic was down 53 per cent compared to the same time last year.

This continued to increase throughout the week, reaching a 60 per cent reduction compared to last year by Thursday, March 27.

Altogether the drop off over three months to the council’s highways and transportation income is expected to amount to £2.7 million – £702,665 from bus lane enforcement, £502,750 from permitting, £393,250 from development and management, £370,500 from skips and scaffolding, £201,894 from rechargeable works and £556,941 from other sources.

A statement to cabinet said: “Bus lane enforcement fine income has been assumed to reduce by 80 per cent, all other services have been assessed as non-essential services and therefore no income is assumed to be earned.

“It is proposed that the three month income pressure (£2.7 million) be funded from the general fund pending the government determination of emergency funding, with the impact per month for the following three months forecast at £909,000 per month. With any surplus being returned if the actual pressure crystallises below the stated amounts.

“Suppliers have started to indicate that they will cease operations due to
concerns about their ability to abide with social distancing guidelines, work will need to be completed to quantify the impact for the highways revenue and capital budgets with a further paper on revised priorities and implications to follow.”

The warning of the shortfall has highlighted the importance of bus lane fines,  even though the council has said that enforcement is designed to change the behaviour of drivers who choose to use bus lanes and gates illegally, keeping them available for their intended use.

But the council did say the huge drop was not budgeted for.

Among the bus lanes which will have seen significant falls in contraventions is Chelmsford’s bus gate.

Cars were barred from driving through the bus gate, located along Duke Street next to Chelmsford railway station, back in 2011, but the cameras were only switched on in 2017.

Despite a successful appeal against Essex County Council (ECC) after the adjudicator decided that the signs were hard to understand and the high number around the bridge were ‘distracting’ for drivers, the council said it would not be changing the signs.

ECC has said that the number of people illegally using the bus gate reduced to less than a quarter of the number before PCNs were issued.

But the income is still significant – between December 1 2018 and May 31 2019, £306,962 was collected in respect to Penalty Charge Notices issued for contraventions at Duke Street.

ECC says that all money generated by PCNs is ring-fenced and reinvested to help improve public transport, roads and the transport network across Essex.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Essex County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, said: “Bus lane and bus gate enforcement is in place so that we, as the highway authority, can ensure the safe and efficient movement of people who use environmentally friendly modes of transport, such as buses and bicycles.

“Enforcement is vital to ensure bus lanes are kept clear for emergency vehicles and also so that buses are not delayed by motorists using the lanes when they should not.

“The income from fines is reinvested into the highways service. Each year an assumption is made as to levels of fines that will be able to be reinvested back into the service, and it is expected that fines will reduce at each enforcement point.

“However, the current situation means that the drop in fines is greater than planned and so the expected reinvestment in services needs to be reviewed as it may impact what would otherwise have been delivered.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter