Gina Davidson: It’s time we saw bus lane sense

SITTING in the back of a police van, the seconds ticking away all I could concentrate on was the fact that this unscheduled hold-up was going to make me late for the evening nursery pick up.

Thursday, 17th May 2012, 1:00 pm

I’m quite sure that what the two officers were saying was justified, but right at that very moment, they were an inconvenience – and potentially a costly one, should the clock go past 6pm. Unfortunately, the reason I was on the receiving end of this little chat was also down to another inconvenience – a bus lane.

My crime had been driving in the Greenways. I was heading towards Western Corner, needed to turn left at the lights – which were at red – and rather than sit and wait in the queue of traffic which was continuing ahead, I’d nipped into the bus lane and up to the lights. I was already running late, there was no other traffic turning left, there were no buses ahead or behind.

What there was, though, was a police van parked down a side street. Which I didn’t clock until it followed me round the corner and into Saughtonhall Avenue. Nicked.

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Thankfully this was around six years ago, before bus lane cameras were even a twinkle in a council traffic planner’s eye and a slap on the wrist was all I received, rather than a demand for money. And it was enough. Never again have I encroached on to the green-tinted Tarmac when the bus lanes are in operation.

Perhaps such a reprimand might have been enough for the majority of drivers. But I suppose that would have meant a lot of police hours sitting in vans waiting to catch the crooks of the road, far easier instead to invest in super hi-tech cameras, switched to film-and-fine mode.

You might think that after the debacle around the Blue Meanies, and the Evening News’ hugely successful “Ticket? Stick It!” campaign of 2002, that introducing bus lane fines might go a bit more smoothly. Lessons would have been learned and all that council blah. But no. Despite a three-week trial, drivers are now receiving letters demanding they pay £30 for encroaching into a bus lane and if they appeal and lose, it says in a slightly menacing tone, the fine will be doubled.

It feels like a bureaucratic deja vu. Ten years ago, when this paper launched “Ticket? Stick It!” it was because of the ridiculous way in which the parking rules were being applied by the Enforcers.

The most minor of indiscretions – a wheel over a line, a driver back to his or her car a couple of minutes past the time, being parked where there were no markings warning drivers not to – all were being dealt with in an outrageously heavy-handed manner. We encouraged motorists to appeal against every ticket until the council – and the CPS wardens – saw sense.

Hundreds of drivers supported the campaign and vowed to appeal against their parking tickets to protest at the over-zealous approach of the Enforcers. And it worked.

But a decade on, it seems that drivers are dealing with the same lack of common sense and total intransigence when it comes to the new bus lane cameras.

Already we’ve had people being fined for being in the Greenways even when it’s before the cameras should be switched on, when the police have apparently told them their vehicle is in the right class to use them, or for driving into the lane when carrying out a U-turn, or pulling over to let an ambulance go past.

Furthermore, the council has admitted that not everyone who was wrongly in the Greenways during the trial period was sent a warning letter to alert them to the fact that from now on they would be fined.

Of course, it is infuriating for drivers who do not use the Greenways to see others gaily whizzing past them in a two-finger vehicular salute to the losers who abide by the rules. For them, no fine is big enough.

But for a scheme such as this, common sense has to be applied right from the start. To those who are responsible for sending out the fines, take a good hard look at what’s going on before you do. And check the times properly to make sure the bus lanes are actually in operation. It’s also no good the council just saying that people can appeal. People (these are voters – remember them?) should not have to go to the lengths of appealing against obvious faults in the system. The council needs to get this sorted fast.

Bus lane cameras are a great idea, but they have to be used wisely. Otherwise it might well be time for another Evening News campaign. The catchphrase this time? How about Another Fine Mess.

I’ll cheer for city

BEST of luck to both Hearts and Hibs teams and their fans going to Hampden this Saturday for what’s been dubbed the salt ‘n’ sauce Scottish Cup Final. Being an armchair supporter means no ticket for me, but no matter who wins, I’ll be at the cup parade come Sunday.

Ultimately I just hope that despite the rivalry between the two sides, Edinburgh will be the winner from a day of sportsmanship and sporting excellence.