Here's everything you need to know about the new 24-hour bus lane in Northampton - including how to challenge fines
Chron readers have voiced their concerns about the level of traffic the bus lane could create when students return to school on Monday (March 8)
A new 24-hour bus lane went live in busy parts of Northampton last month (February) and it has already caused a stir with some of the town's motorists.
The bus lane - which is now monitored by cameras and will snap motorists if they enter the zone, issuing fines of £60 but reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days - runs from Weedon Road opposite Halfords, through St James and then continues in parts of the Wellinborough Road.
Chron readers have also voiced their concerns about the level of traffic the bus lane could create when students return to school on Monday (March 8). This was highlighted after gas works carried out in the Sixfields area earlier this week, which saw temporary traffic lights compounded with the bus lane restrictions, caused traffic chaos in the area.
The bus lane was brought into action by the county council in a bid to reduce congestion in the area and provide Covid travel plans, which effectively means to encourage more people to cycle.
What has the county council said about first time rule breakers?
Cllr Jason Smithers, of Northamptonshire County Council, was asked about whether first time rule breakers driving in the bus lane should get a warning, as per government guidelines.
He said: “Prior to fines being issued for illicit use of the bus lanes, there was a period where motorists received warning notices to prepare them for the changes.
“Communications were also issued via the media highlighting the main areas where offences were taking place during the warning period to further draw attention to the changes and the locations of the cameras.
“Government guidance is just that, and there is flexibility in how the schemes can be implemented. It is about achieving a balance to give motorists a heads-up while making the rollout of the scheme feasible.
“Part of the solution to reducing congestion and pollution is to encourage people to use more sustainable forms of transport."
Cllr Smithers said a real challenge to promoting bus travel is guaranteeing reliable journey times. But he believes bus lane enforcement will make "significant improvements" in making bus travel a more "attractive" option for commuters.
He added: “I also think it will encourage cycling, as the bus lanes, if free of cars, are fairly traffic light and better for those who choose pedal power.
“Obviously at the moment with the Covid-19 pandemic people should only be making essential journeys but this infrastructure will continue to be in place once restrictions are lifted.”
What has the government said?
The government has suggested that councils will be told to issue a warning rather than a fine for first-time offenders
The rules would apply to bus lane and other “moving traffic offences” such as making illegal turns or blocking a yellow box junction. Powers to enforce these other offences are due to be handed over to local authorities in England under the government's Gear Change proposals.
The plan to issue warnings instead of fines was announced as part of the same proposals for altering road regulations. The plan says: “We will issue guidance to local authorities... including the importance of ensuring the need for traffic signing to be properly designed and placed, so that it is clear to drivers what restrictions are in force.
“We propose that motorists be issued with a warning for a first offence, and fines for subsequent offences.”
How can you appeal a fine?
Appealing a bus lane fine is like appealing against any other form of PCN, such as a parking ticket.
You will need to write to the issuing body, usually the local council, with the details of the PCN (your vehicle details, the PCN number and the date of the offence) and explain your grounds for appealing.
If you think the PCN has been issued unfairly you will need to provide evidence to support this.
For more information on how to do this, click here.
The AA has previously campaigned against bus lane “traps” which catch out drivers who are unfamiliar with the roads.
Its roads spokesman Luke Bosdet said the move was welcome after councils had ignored previous calls by the DfT for drivers to be given a warning for first offences.
He: “After more than a decade of draconian bus lane enforcement in which hundreds of thousands of unwitting drivers have been caught and fined, the Government has restored some fairness.
“The majority of drivers caught by bus lane and other moving traffic enforcement are people who are unfamiliar with those roads. Warning first-time offenders is a very fair solution, reserving the big stick for repeat offenders.”
Councils around the UK raked in almost £60 million from bus lane fines in 2019, according to the latest data.
More than two million penalty charge notices (PCNs) were issued to drivers who wrongly used the specialist lanes, with motorists in Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham the most likely to be caught on camera.