HUNDREDS of hospital patients and their visitors are being hit with fines after being snapped by a controversial new bus lane camera at the Royal Infirmary.
The council-operated device, which has been installed in a new stretch of road adjacent to the hospital, has caught 800 motorists since it was installed in early June.
Transport chiefs have insisted the new camera is adequately signposted, but drivers who have been served with the £60 fines have accused the city of exploiting the sick and their families with the new scheme.
Little France Drive is closed to cars, with the council keen that the road does not become a rat-run, but drivers said they had been caught out when searching for parking spaces at the hospital while anxious about making appointment or worrying about loved ones. The installation of the trap has also been seen as another blow to motorists who use the Royal Infirmary, which is one of the few hospitals in Scotland to charge for parking thanks to the Private Finance Initiative deal which was used to build the decade-old facility.
Council sources insisted that more signage than is required by law had been put in place to warn motorists and that it was unlikely that the policy would change. A trial, which saw offenders sent warning letters before enforcement began, was also carried out.
But the Institute of Advanced Motorists has urged the council to take another look at the warning signs, “rather than just sitting back and taking the funds”.uOne victim saidthe fact that 11 motorists every day were being fined was proof that it was causing confusion.
“The number of people being caught shows that it’s not signposted properly,” she said. “I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap. If there had been a hundred people I might have thought fair enough, but the total does seem very high. We’re talking about people visiting hospital patients or who are poorly themselves getting fined.”
The driver said she had been unable to find a space in the hospital’s public car park and had attempted to drive round towards the hospital’s maternity unit, as she had done on previous visits.
But due to the changed road layout she found herself on Little France Drive, where she was quickly snapped by the camera. It is understood that the city council is aware that some cars have driven up the road only to perform a three- point turn and drive back towards the Royal Infirmary, suggesting that they used the road by mistake rather than as a deliberate shortcut. The unhappy motorist added: “There is a camera sign but it looks just like a speed camera sign to me. The lanes aren’t green like all the other bus lanes in Edinburgh. I just had to pay the fine in the end, which is frustrating, especially as it costs so much to park at the Royal Infirmary anyway.”
The camera will have netted the council up to £50,000 in fines already, although drivers do have the option of paying a reduced rate of £30 if it is settled within two weeks.
The lane is not painted green, as many other bus lanes in the Capital are, because different road regulations were used to bring it in. Little France Drive was extended to provide access to new homes which the council hopes will be built on the land. It had originally been intended that it be closed completely, but the council agreed to allow access to public transport after community representatives in Greendykes said it would provide them with quicker access to the Royal Infirmary.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport and environment convener, said: “The bus lane cameras are in place to ensure that buses, taxis and cyclists are the only vehicles using this section of Little France Drive, which has been designated a public transport link. All the statutory signage is in place, warning people that bus lane cameras are ahead and in addition we have also installed yellow and black advisory signs. As with all new traffic controls, these can take some time for people to get used to.”
She said fines are expected to significantly reduce once the system is bedded in.
‘They must be making a fortune’
Domestic appliance engineer Jim McCardle is one of the hundreds of drivers to have been stung by a fine for entering the new bus lane at the Royal Infirmary.
The Newcraighall resident has been battling problems linked to a liver transplant for seven years, meaning he has to go to the hospital at least every month.
He was fined following an urgent hospital appointment in June, shortly after the camera was switched on.
The 57-year-old hit out at the council’s signposting, saying he had not seen any warning that private vehicles were banned.
He said: “I was caught one day and a guy passing me, he was caught the same day. I got a letter through the post.
“A lot of people are coming up that road. They must be making a fortune. It’s not properly signed.”
He added: “They’ve probably booked hundreds of cars because nobody knows you can’t go on that road.
“When you go along the road, the two lanes cut into one lane and that’s where the camera gets you.”
‘They should be making it as easy as possible to get to the hospital’
Neil Greig, spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, called on the council to look again at its use of the bus lane camera near the hospital.
He said: “There are no buildings, so that road does look like it could lead to a car park. You can see where the confusion is coming from.
“Edinburgh council can stick to the regulations and continue to catch people out, upset them and take money. Or they could be pro-active and decide to have another look at it.
“It isn’t like this is a traditional bus lane on a main road which is full of traffic.
“Common sense would suggest that when people find themselves in there, it’s because they’ve got lost. I think that’s fairly obvious.
“They should be pro-active and say ‘let’s look at signposting while being a bit more positive and helping drivers’, rather than just sitting back and taking the funds.
“I think the Royal Infirmary is a fantastic new hospital, but it’s built on the outskirts of town with limited access to bus routes.
“They have to realise that people are bound to use their cars, particularly when visiting out of hours or at weekends.
“For the majority of people in Edinburgh and the Lothians, they can only get there by car.
“The council should be doing their best to help the drivers that are coming there and make things as easy as possible for them.”