Comment: Fines a serious PR problem for the city

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The city council’s grounds for introducing bus lane cameras are clear. In fact, they are spelled out in black and white on their website.

“The cameras help improve bus journey times and reduce misuse of bus lanes which frustrates sensible drivers. The aim is to promote the use of public transport and reduce through traffic in residential areas.”

It all sounds so reasonable – and it is not just clever spin. That is a good argument for tougher enforcement of the bus lane rules.

The trouble is, as we discover today, no-one has bothered to find out whether the cameras have been achieving their central aim of improving bus journey times since their introduction two years ago.

That apparent oversight will cause jaws to drop in homes across the Capital.

The introduction of the cameras was always going to be controversial and spark claims that the city was simply using motorists as a cash cow. Today, many more people will believe that is the case.

It looks cynical in the extreme to introduce the cameras which generate more than £500,000 a year in fines – and more if the network is expanded – without taking steps to check that they are delivering positive results for bus passengers.

This is a serious PR problem for the city and its bus lane cameras.

The sensible majority accept the importance of having some kind of enforcement regime, while harbouring some reservations about the way in which the cameras can all too easily become a blunt tool.

After all, what is the point of having the rules that are not enforced? And the bus lanes deserve protection having been a pretty much unqualified success, making public transport faster and more attractive to many thousands more people.

But many motorists have doubts about the system because common sense all too easily gets lost.

There are few clearer examples of this than the city’s insistence on fining drivers who nip in and out of an empty bus lane to get past a stationary vehicle waiting to turn right in the outside lane. They keep the traffic moving, cause no problems, yet still land a £60 fine.

These doubts and resentments will only be fuelled by today’s discovery.

It is simply not good enough to say “we are catching thousands of drivers therefore the system is working”, even if the number of fines are falling, suggesting motorists are learning their lesson.

Cutting bus journey times is central to the rationale for having the cameras in the first place. The success of this must be measured as a matter of urgency to prevent the cameras becoming discredited.