A COUNTY Durham bus lane which has been criticised for “catching drivers out” has seen more than 8,000 fines handed out in its first month of operation, we can today reveal.
A Freedom of Information request, submitted by The Northern Echo, revealed a staggering 8,158 fines were issued to motorists driving through Quarryheads Lane ‘bus gate’ in September.
The data, which shows the bus lane attracted more fines in one month than the city’s North Road lane did in a whole year, showed the equivalent of around 263 fines per day were issued between September 1 and October 1.
Durham County Council, who are responsible for the bus lane and the issuing of Penalty Charge Notices, said the bus lane had been installed to help “manage traffic” as part of improvement works on New Elvet Bridge in the city centre.
But the council has faced significant backlash with motorists claiming people are being wrongly charged through ‘lack of signage and advanced warning’.
Shaun Craggs, of Crook, slammed the council for “not providing” enough notice to motorists that new rules would come into force on such a “main road” after being slapped with a £30 fine last month.
The bus lane on Quarryheads Lane, near Durham City Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT
Mr Craggs, who has worked in Durham for the past ten years, said he had been left perplexed that the council had “cut off” a major route into Durham.
He said: “I approached the roundabout, was looking right and then left, and then went through – there did not appear to be any prior signs or warnings.
“After getting the fine I went down to have a look and in that time I must have seen five or six cars go through making the same mistake.”
Mr Craggs, who warned that the measures would only lead to further traffic at the Neville’s Cross junction, alleged he had not been made aware that the road had become a bus lane.
He said: “Earlier this year, they had signs up as far as Chester-le-Street when Elvet Bridge was closed, so why haven’t they done that with this.
“I’d love to know how much they are raking in from it.”
Another motorist Eloise Merrell, of Durham City, who was hit with a £30 fine after driving through the bus lane, said getting around the city was “already difficult.”
She said: “I totally get that we are in a city and there are bus lanes, but this road had no prior signs to say it was a new bus lane.
“The fact that they are using different language is confusing, they are calling it a ‘bus gate’, it just seems like they are trying to catch you out.
Ms Merrell, who said she is familiar with the roads in the city, also claimed she had not received any prior notice from Durham County Council that the road would be converted into a bus lane.
She said: “Our household did not get a letter through the post to explain this was happening – it’s just quite annoying as it was a first-time offence, I didn’t get a warning letter just a fine.”
Online, the bus lane has attracted hundreds of comments from people, some of which appeared to be from motorists claiming to have been unknowingly caught out.
Data from the Freedom of Information request revealed that in the space of a month, the bus lane on Quarryheads Lane caught just over two-and-half times the number of motorists, a bus lane in the city centre did in a year.
Between January 1 and October 1, Durham County Council issued 3,718 fines to motorists driving through bus lane cameras on North Road.
The data also showed how many appeals for fines relating to Quarryheads Lane had been successful.
It showed that a total of 73 appeals were received between September 1 and October, but more than half (48) were successfully cancelled over the period.
The bus lane on North Road in Durham City Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT
In response, Durham County Council said it had distributed 2,750 information packs to residents and businesses informing them of the change and that it had introduced several advance warning signs ahead of the bus lane.
Dave Wafer, head of transport and contract services at Durham County Council, said: “Similar to other councils, we use detection cameras to prevent bus lane misuse – something that can impact on road safety and has been a regular source of complaints.
“The new bus lane on Quarryheads Lane has been introduced to help manage traffic as part of the ongoing works on New Elvet Bridge.
“In advance of this, we distributed 2,750 information packs to nearby residents and businesses, as well as putting information on our social media pages, website and in the local press.
“To assist motorists, we introduced nine advance warning signs, including signs highlighting the new road layout.
“And, by locating the start of the bus lane on a roundabout, motorists can choose to turn around to avoid it. Warning letters were also sent for a period of six weeks to allow people to get used to the system.”