Bus gate! Council fines a driver every two minutes, says councillor

A driver is fined every two minutes for passing through the new “bus gates” in the centre of Brighton, a council committee was told last night (Tuesday 16 November).

More than 9,600 drivers were sent £60 tickets last month alone – reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days – and the figure was said to be down from August.

Several councillors questioned whether the road signs were clear enough, saying that it was hard to believe that so many people would willingly break the law and risk the fine.

And even one of the Green Party’s most vocal cycling advocates, Councillor Jamie Lloyd, said that he had been caught out and fined himself.

Four cameras monitor vehicles along Valley Gardens, where the new road layout bars cars from the bus lanes on the western side.

The car ban applies to Marlborough Place, St George’s Place, York Place and St Peter’s Place and came in as part of the two-year £11 million revamp of Valley Gardens, completed in September last year.

“Local traffic” is allowed – but councillors said that people were unfamiliar with the term “bus gates” and, besides, the painted signs on the road were already fading.

The national Traffic Penalty Tribunal, which rules on appeals against fines for driving in bus lanes, said: “The term ‘bus gate’ is interchangeable with ‘bus lane’ in terms of enforcement of regulations.”

Brighton and Hove City Council started sending warning letters to those who strayed into the bus lanes from September last year and, from January, the council has been issuing £60 tickets.

Last night the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee was asked to make the bus gates permanent, prompting members to voice their concerns and ask a series of questions.

Councillors were worried that tourists making innocent mistakes were being caught out, fined and put off returning to Brighton because of the confusion.

A report about the bus gates opened with the words: “The key principles of the Valley Gardens proposal are to simplify the existing highway network, making the journey through Valley Gardens less complicated, more legible and safer for all users.”

But Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: “There must be something wrong with the bus gates. There can’t be that many crazy motorists who are intent on breaking the rules.”

And the former Labour leader of the council, Nancy Platts, said: “An inordinate number of people are being caught out.

“It doesn’t sound humanly possible to issue that many tickets. It sounds like we need to improve the signage. I can’t imagine that number of people deliberately disobeying the traffic regulations.”

The bus gate at the bottom of Trafalgar Street

Councillor Platts said that if the bus gate was to work, it was important to bring down the number of drivers “passing through there who shouldn’t be passing though there”.

Councillor Nemeth said that the 9,618 tickets issued last month – with a spike during the half-term break – averaged more than 300 a day.

He said that if traffic was busy for 10 hours a day then at the busiest times the council was fining 30 drivers an hour or one every two minutes.

He said that he had intended to oppose making the bus lanes permanent if more than 30 drivers a week were getting it wrong, adding: “Our position has to be that until that ticket number comes down, we cannot support that.”

He urged officials to look at ways to make the rules clearer for drivers – residents or visitors – such as different surfaces.

Councillor Lloyd, who works for cycling charity Sustrans, said that the bus lanes and fines were in place “for a reason”.

He said: “I’ve been caught in that bus gate – and I hope that is a source of amusement for everyone. I deserve it. It was in a hire van – moving bikes obviously – and I got caught. Fair enough. I wouldn’t wish a fine on anyone.

“Imagine if we caught that many people littering in a month. We’d all be absolutely delighted in fining them. And the point is the law’s the law – and we don’t have carte blanche to break it.”

People in the area knew that the cameras were there now, he said, and the number of fines being issued would decrease.

Councillors were told that the figures were three times higher than those for other new cameras in the local area.

But they were not unexpected because Valley Gardens was one of the busiest places for traffic in Brighton and Hove.

Initially, the council added more signs after it lost appeals against fines at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal – and it has since carried out three audits to ensure enough signs were in place.

Labour councillor Theresa Fowler said that people were confused by the term “bus gate” and a no-entry sign would be better.

Green councillor Steve Davis, who has worked as a driving instructor for 15 years, said that the term had been in use for a long time.

He also said that there were no-entry signs there and – pulling out a dog-eared copy of the Highway Code – he referred to the blue circular signs on either side of the road at the start of the bus lanes.

He said: “It’s a no-entry sign for private vehicles – cycles, buses and taxis only.”

Councillor Steve Davis with his Highway Code

Councillor Davis, who co-chairs the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, said that the blue signs were clear and anyone going past them on their driving test would fail.

Green councillor Sue Shanks called for more publicity about the bus routes to raise awareness because she was concerned about people being unfairly penalised.

She said: “I get that the signs are correct. I think maybe sat nav’s a problem. I don’t know how long it takes for sat navs to know they can’t direct people up there – because I think they do at the moment, or they did. It’s a bit unfair if you’re relying on a sat nav and it sends you up there.”

Labour and the Greens voted to make the orders permanent although Labour asked for an update on what measures were being taken to reduce the number of drivers being fined. The Conservatives voted against.

  1. Austin Reply

    The problem is, at the bottom of North Road, there are no primary route signs until after the Gloucester Place junction. The sign indicating “Local access only” for the left hand lane into Gloucester Place is not fit for purpose. Non-local drivers need to know that turning left here will take them to a Bus Gate.

  2. Nathan Adler Reply

    9600 is an utterly scandalous number and this is simply a great honey trap for making money. How can it be and effective bus gate if that many cars are using it? Something is clearly wrong and I think Cllr Lloyd has probably missed the point entirely and I would wager a vast majority of these fines are from tourists unfamiliar with the new layout. Disappointing that Labour backed the Greens here, it quite simply stinks. One has to question why was the amount of fines issued NOT in a report prior to the meeting? Was it a cover up?

  3. Hove Guy Reply

    “It doesn’t sound humanly possible to issue that many tickets. It sounds like we need to improve the signage. I can’t imagine that number of people deliberately disobeying the traffic regulations.”

    It sounds like the Greens and Labour need to improve a lot more than just signage – like common sense for instance. They clearly are incapable of making any decision that doesn’t cause chaos and wreck the city. Time they were kicked out once and for all.

    • Casual Writer Reply

      I have had two tickets, I did not receive the first one until I had driven down the bus gate a second time. Both times I had driven down North Road and followed the local traffic sign. Dark evenings, wet weather, and pedestrians, caused me to concentrate on the road conditions rather than signage and I failed to turn left into Trafalgar Street. My fault? totally! but better signage could have helped. If people are still getting caught to this extent then there is an obviously an issue, people have not driven in the bus gate on purpose.

  4. Derek Wright Reply

    Visitors leaving the seafront should follow the direction sign saying London A23 straight on so why do folk turn left? It must be locals going up the western side confused by local access only, believing its the way to the shops

    • Austin Reply

      There’s the RCP on North Road. The Theatre NCP on Church Street will also route to North Road; There is no signage from Churchill Square and Brighton Centre car parks directing out of town traffic to the Steine so traffic can quite easily, and some does, turn up West Street/Queens Road and then down to North Road. North Road signage needs to be clearer.

  5. Mark Strong Reply

    I think Derek has got it spot on! My educated guess is that those fined are roughly split 50/50 between local people who know it’s wrong but think they can get away with it (or think £30 is cheap!), and those who used to drive this way, haven’t understood the changes and haven’t looked at the Highway Code for years.

    What councillors don’t realise is that the signing used is stipulated in law (very few people other that transport professionals like me have read TSRGD – the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2016). So markings like “BUS GATE” (TSRGD Diagram 1048.5 if anyone is interested) must be used by the council – this replaced the pre 2016 “BUS TAXI BIKE ONLY” markings which were clearer.

    Before anyone asks, I don’t know why it was changed to something that people don’t generally understand. But it’s now as much a legal sign as “No Entry” (TSRGD 616) or “Traffic must turn left/right” (TSRGD 609) signs so the responsibility is on drivers to know what they’re doing.

    • Christopher Hawtree Reply

      Good points.

      I am surprised there has not been a headline BUS GATEGATE.

  6. Rick Pringle Reply

    This is yet another outrageous example of the ineptitude and incompetence of the local authority. It’s either that or a deliberate revenue raising ploy which wouldn’t surprise anyone.
    The totally inadequate signage can be easily obscured by parked or moving buses. Navigation systems can mislead drivers as well as simply following higher vehicles ahead.
    Naturally, as is the form at B&HCC no one will be held responsible.

  7. Simon Philips Reply

    Greens must be ecstatic about how they can fleece the driving fraternity they loathe so easily!

  8. Idgie Reply

    A condition of a driving licence is a duty to keep up to date with road signage, and to pay attention to signage when you drive. Better and clearer signage is always welcome, but any glance at pavements and double yellow lines anywhere in the city demonstrates that there is a huge problem with rank driver entitlement- people are used to getting away with committing crimes in their cars. That this is one area where they actually face some consequences is hugely welcome. Now let’s have some parking enforcement cameras along Western Road.

    • Austin Reply

      Only an idiot would think that a driver would deliberately receive a fine due to some sense of entitlement.

      • Idgie Reply

        Then it’s a good thing I didn’t say that, isn’t it? 🙂

      • Some Guy Reply

        You say this but I’ve seen a woman double-park her 4×4 outside M&S, directly in front of a traffic warden, and told him to ticket her as she went in to buy stuff.
        The way people park and drive in the city is atrocious. Basically every east-west road from the sea to the Downs could do with speed cameras on it.

        • Some Guy Reply

          Sorry, not double park, pull up on the kerb.

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