More than one million penalty charge notices (PCNs) for driving in bus lanes are issued to drivers in the UK’s 20 largest cities every year, according to the RAC following a freedom of information request.
And, while bus lane fines can vary considerably, a conservative estimate of the total value of fines issued to drivers for straying into bus lanes is £68m a year, or around £200m over the last three years.
The request for information by the RAC to London councils and city councils outside the capital revealed that there was a 5% rise in the number of penalty charge notices issued for bus lane misuse between 2015 and 2017 (1,078,816 to 1,129,613).
Outside London, there was a 9% increase over the three years (741,777 to 810,642) while inside the London there was a 5% reduction (337,039 to 318,971) in penalties issued.
Due to the sheer numbers of fines issued, the RAC is concerned that many drivers are being punished for accidentally driving in a bus lane due to confusing or inadequate signage.
As a result, the RAC is calling for a review of national signage guidelines and the introduction of ‘smart bus lanes’ to make things simpler and clearer for motorists.
The data revealed that that Manchester City Council issued the most notices between 2015 and 2017, with 352,688 sent in total and 172,311 in 2017 alone – a dramatic 175% increase on 2015 when there were 62,580 notices.
This was followed by Glasgow which issued 339,402 notices between 2015 and 2017, then by Cardiff (267,713 notices), Bradford (208,790 notices) and Nottingham (194,993 notices) in most frequently penalising drivers for driving in a bus lane.
Inside London, of the 27 out of 33 local authorities and transport bodies that responded to the RAC’s data request, around half recorded a rise in bus lane fines issued (13 authorities) and half recorded a fall between 2015 and 2017. The sharpest drops were in the London Borough of Hillingdon (79% drop compared to 2015, with 268 issued in 2017).
The RAC believes the widespread disparities may be down to a number of factors. A fall in PCNs could be an indication of drivers adhering to the rules more rigorously or perhaps improved signage, while some rises might be as a result of the increased use of existing enforcement cameras.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “Bus lanes have a vital role to play in ensuring the reliability of public transport as they help to keep our urban areas moving. But the sheer quantity of fines – more than a million every year – suggests something is awry and we don’t believe the vast majority of drivers are knowingly breaking the rules.
“While there is clearly no defence for deliberately driving in a bus lane, we believe more can be done to make it obvious to drivers when they can and can’t drive in one.
“We also think it is time we saw modern technology being used to make things clearer for road users, which would also have the benefit of making the best use of available road space at times when bus lanes can be used by all vehicles.”
The fine for driving in a bus lane varies across the UK, with London levying some of the steepest charges at £160 or £80 if paid quickly, while other metropolitan and provincial areas charge much less, typically around £60.
The law dictates that local authorities have to issue the penalty charge notice within 28 days of the offence. Motorists can then pay the fine at a reduced rate if they do so quickly.