DRIVERS flouting bus gate restrictions in Oxford city centre have been hit by fines approaching £1m a year over the past three years, new figures have revealed.
Motorists, particularly those driving through High Street, have been caught out by bus gate cameras, and have been fined by Oxfordshire County Council as a result.
The enforcement launched in 2007 means High Street is closed to ordinary traffic between 7.30am-6.30pm. Bus gates also operate in Castle Street, Magdalen Street and George Street.
Business spokesman Graham Jones yesterday called for the High Street restriction to be reviewed after the council released the figures following a Freedom of Information request from the Oxford Mail.
The figures revealed that in 2011/2012 a total of 31,981 drivers were caught in the four locations, leading to fines of £858,948.96.
The fines total for 2012/2013 rose to £953,582.77 and fell in 2013/2014 to £782,566.33.
Over the three years, more than £470,000 of these fines – totalling more than £2,595,000 – has been either cancelled or refunded by the county council.
Graham Jones, a spokesman for Oxford High Street Association, which represents about 35 businesses, including hotels, restaurants and colleges, said he was surprised by the large number of drivers fined. And he called for the county council to consider lifting the restriction between 9.30am and 3.30pm, while major roadworks take place in other parts of the city.
Mr Jones said: “I’m always surprised by the scale of the fines but at least drivers appear to be getting wise to it.
“I have spoken to some businesses who choose to pay the fine rather than face an extra 30-minute journey to get to where they want to go.
“Some visitors to the city get caught out and that can put them off coming to Oxford again.
“With so many roadworks taking place, including those at Frideswide Square and Kennington roundabout, I think the High Street restrictions should be reviewed. If the High Street was open in the middle of the day it could free up congestion in other parts of the city.
“Some people, however, would be totally opposed to this and we have to be careful not to risk the reductions we have seen in pollution levels.
“Buses are cleaner than they used to be and a joint ticketing arrangement has reduced the number of buses.”
Deputy leader of the county council Rodney Rose said he would not be in favour of reopening High Street in the middle of the day to help tackle congestion.
He said: “The bus gates were put in to speed up the running of the buses.
“We are asking people to use alternative forms of transport instead of the car.
“I have been using the train to get from Oxford to Charlbury – putting my money where my mouth is.”
The largest number of fines issued each year were in High Street – 21,425 in 2011/2012, 25,652 in 2012/2013 and 22,647 in 2013/2014.
The county council is only responsible for enforcing bus lane legislation in High Street, Castle Street, George Street and Magdalen Street, while Thames Valley Police is responsible for other bus gates and bus lanes.
Drivers who receive a fine are told to pay £60, although the amount is reduced to £30 if they pay within 14 days.
County council spokesman Paul Smith said the bus gate fines were spent on transport schemes including improvements at Thornhill park-and-ride.
He added: “The bus gates in Oxford city centre were introduced to ease traffic congestion and reduce journey times for buses.
“They are a long-standing arrangement and well established.
“If people obeyed them, and did not drive through them, the council would receive no money in fines.
“Our aim is not to make money – our aim is to manage traffic in the city centre.”
In 2009, the Traffic Penalty Tribunal ruled the council should not be penalising drivers for entering a bus lane because the area was not signposted as such, but the council’s High Court appeal was upheld.
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