Bus lane cameras good news – an alternative news story

See the Tele’s editorial for why I’m writing this.

Law-abiding motorists across Belfast today welcomed news that a mobile camera would be roaming Belfast to detect and fine drivers illegally using bus lanes on arterial routes across the city.

City centre worker Isobel told us “I have to sit in my car in traffic queues every day because I have to drive to other offices during the day. It sickens me when I see dozens of cars flying up the inside, the police never seem to enforce them.”

Cyclist Jim told us “Cars using the bus lanes in the morning make travelling by bike a lot more dangerous. Bus lane abuse increases the number of cyclists illegally using footways, and that just gives other cyclists like me a bad name.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that van as much as we ought, though,” he continued. “I hardly ever see a Traffic Attendant on my morning commute as I have to wait to cycle safely round illegally parked cars and delivery vehicles – will it all be more words and no action?”

In tandem, DRD has erected six fixed cameras in the City centre. “Law-abiding motorists are fed up of watching others break the law with impunity,” transport commentator Andy told us. “Maybe the likelihood of having to pay a £45 fine – £90 if they don’t pay within 14 days – will focus their minds.

“The next step is to invest in public transport to make it cheaper at point of use and more comprehensive.  Too many people don’t have any choice other than to drive at rush hour because they have no practical alternative, and between them and people who drive simply because they own a car, it’s costing our economy dear in wasted time and money. People need that realistic alternative so that those who rely on their vehicles to be able to do their jobs or because of health issues can do so more easily and to ease cost pressure on our business sector.”

It is believed that a proposal to use the existing CCTV cameras on buses to detect bus lane offenders may have been cancelled. It isn’t yet known why this is the case.

  • david crookes

    If you’re going to afflict us all with snoop-state cameras, you must either fine everyone who is caught breaking the law, or else fine no one (and take your detestable cameras down). The law will deserve only contempt if it turns into a lottery.

  • Dan

    “….people who drive simply because they own a car”

    What sort if messed up thinking allows someone to write that?

    People owns cars, pay enough for doing so too, and the idea that zealots who bleat on about the benefits of impractical and costly public transport should continue to dictate strategies which penalise them for doing so is an outrage.
    The city centre has been turned into an awkward maze of bus lanes and traffic jams for little tangible practical benefit……in fact, no benefit at all, more like the detriment of the city centre and business.

  • babyface finlayson

    I don’t have much sympathy for those complaining about this.
    Nipping in and out of the bus lane makes life very dangerous for cyclists, who cannot anticipate what drivers may do..
    Plus it is unfair on other motorists who try to restrain themselves and wait patiently in the queue.
    I’m not sure why cameras are needed since offenders are not exactly difficult to spot.
    Just pick a road any morning and bobs your uncle.

  • AndyB

    You are aware that commercial drivers pay several times what we pay in insurance and vehicle excise duty, aren’t you? Lorries, vans and buses are not cheap to run, and businesses rely on them being able to get around.

    Many people have no choice but to drive. I don’t need to drive for work, but my wife does. I work in an office with a mixture of colleagues who drive because they either have to visit other places during the day, because there isn’t (and never will be) public transport to where they live, their health means that walking to the bus stop would exhaust them before the day even started, or by the time they’ve taken children to childcare it would be a waste of time to leave the car somewhere safe and take the bus.

    All those people are essential drivers. I’m not, although there are days when I need to drive because I need to do things before or after work that would be at best inconvenient by public transport.

    You should also note the genuine quote in there – myself speaking as myself. Public transport, which in a UK and Ireland context isn’t costly (it’s cheap by comparison to GB both for customers and ratepayers), is still far too expensive at the point of use, and its coverage could be a lot better – but again, that will need public investment to even approach the level of subsidy paid to private operators in GB, and right now the coffers are truly empty.

  • AndyB

    If you’re not going to break the law, why would you care if there are cameras?

  • AndyB

    The law is already in contempt because it wasn’t being enforced and people were breaking it with impunity. I don’t think one mobile van is remotely enough.

  • AndyB

    People driving simply because they own a car is actually what the commenters on this site report, when they complain that they pay enough to do so, and don’t see why they should be restrained from doing so – except that doing so has an impact on those who don’t have a choice. That’s the bigger picture, that there are other people around us who are affected by our own behaviour.

  • AndyB

    Two other points. At the rate traffic in Belfast was building up anyway, is it not fanciful to think that Belfast could have coped in the medium term with the demands being placed on city streets? That’s why mass transit is essential, for the sake of those who are unable to use it.

    And secondly, how do you respond to the reality that more people are coming into the city centre post bus lanes, while fewer people just pass through?

  • chrisjones2

    “cyclists, who cannot anticipate what drivers may do.”

    If they are that incompetent should they be on the roads at all?

    “it is unfair on other motorists” Aw,,,Who said the world was fair.

    I love the Government meme that this is all for the common good.
    Fact 1 – Transport NI brought this in to force people out of their cars and on to public transport.
    Fact 2 Now, who owns that public transport? The Department does!
    Fact 3 So does it make a profit – no it makes a huge loss and we face calls for even higher subsidies to support even more travelers forced onto the buses.
    Fact 4 The bus lanes are closed to most Taxis. Why? Because of lobbying by the other Taxi lobby who have a cartel on their use

    This is a classic case of a Department and officials out of control. Abolish the lot. Privatize the buses and trains and charge economic fares. We cannot afford anything else. Its nonsense like this that drags the economy down

  • chrisjones2

    Why does it need investment? Investment is designed to produce profit , not prop up lossmakers

  • chrisjones2

    So why are we spending so much on this when the Health Service needs the money? When , we are told, wicked Tory Austerity cuts are ruining public services?

    There seems no shortage of money to pour in here

  • AndyB

    Economic fares would be considerably above current levels. The only reason why some fares in GB are less is subsidy paid by the councils to private bus companies to keep up their profits.

  • Zig70

    It’s fairly pointless when they are mainly clear. What problem are they addressing? Try the antrim road for cars parked in bus lanes.

  • AndyB

    Public transport is a loss maker across the UK, or more accurately, it would be a loss maker if the government didn’t subsidise private rail companies and councils didn’t subsidy private bus companies at levels Translink can only dream of.

  • AndyB

    Try the Ormeau Road and Woodstock Road for dozens of cars going straight down bus lanes.

  • AndyB

    As for cyclists anticipating what drivers may do, the reference was to the possibility that drivers would not obey the law and would not only drive into the bus lane, but not look to see if there was something smaller than a bus first.

  • 23×7

    Complete joke and just another money making scheme. I never see anyone enforcing the urban clearways on either the Ormeau and Cregagh Roads. Addressing service vehicles and cars parked on urban clearways during the rush hours would have the biggest impact on current traffic congestion in Belfast.

  • AndyB

    Of course it would, and that’s why I expressed cynicism about NSL enforcement the other night on Newsline.

  • 23×7

    Exactly, the biggest issue isn’t in the City Centre it’s on the major routes into and out of the centre.

  • babyface finlayson

    As AndyB has pointed out it is not a matter of incompetence on the part of the cyclist when it comes to anticipating car drivers suddenly nipping into the bus/cycle lane often without checking properly.
    It is life threatening incompetence on the part of the car driver.
    “Who said the world was fair” could easily be thrown back at the complaining car drivers.

  • AndyB

    Let’s look at it a different way. Suppose someone broke into your house, and was caught, with more than enough evidence to convict them.

    Suppose the police turned round and said “sorry, we have to let the man who burgled your house go free because we haven’t found the person who burgled next door yet, and we can either prosecute all burglars or none at all”

  • david crookes

    Thanks, AndyB.

    First, because normal human beings hate being watched.

    Secondly, because they don’t swallow the argument that if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear.

    Thirdly, because they know from experience that camera-based laws are applied arbitrarily.

    Fourthly, because they suspect that an ability to watch people on cameras may tend to corrupt the watchers.

    More and more rules which need more and more cameras will give more and more powers to the very people whose powers need to be kept within limits.

  • AndyB

    They cut Translink’s subsidy by £12 million this year and budgeted for a similar loss last year to avoid putting fares up. Read my previous posts on the DRD budget outcomes.

  • AndyB

    I should say that while it’s strictly speaking illegal to duck into a bus lane if someone’s turning right in front of you and you want to go straight, I think that should be overlooked – as long as you’re not making someone in the bus lane take avoiding action or endangering yourself, and you move back into the proper lane straight away. There were proposals of zero tolerance at one stage, but those seem to be gone.

  • rapunsell

    I seen you Andy and have been making the same point for years myself. In fact I’ve phoned NSL and messaged DRD about it. They could not give a dam. fact is, drive out of the city centre any day up Dublin rd and botanic and the clearways are always blocked, it causes unnecessary delays and is dangerous for cyclists. I’ve never ever seen an NSL attendant enforce a clearway and don’t expect they ever will. This new ruse is a money making scheme to be sure

  • AndyB

    Only part of the interview was shown – Tara and I actually talked for a couple of minutes. More of a write-up, including things I didn’t get saying at all, is on my own blog at http://www.andyboal.co.uk/blog

  • AndyB

    The way I put it is that it’s extremely easy for motorists to make sure that the DRD don’t get a penny, just like the speed cameras on the Bangor Road which catch hardly anybody.

    I’ve heard rumours that there may be a threshold of a number of seconds driving in a bus lane before someone is ticketed, perhaps 10 seconds, but nothing definite.

  • babyface finlayson

    Yes that is a fair enough, and good cyclists should indeed anticipate that.

  • AndyB

    Well, NSL could employ staff to patrol bus lanes, but since they don’t have enough to do more than pay lip service to urban clearways I’ll not hold my breath!

    Remember the fuss the Tele made because as many as a shocking 37 tickets a week were being issued on the 2.5 miles of the Lisburn Road a couple of years ago? The shock for me was that so few tickets were being issued, even in a context where there’s a definite policy of moving drivers on so they’re not a problem to other traffic any more (or in the case of expired parking, making sure other people can have access to the cheap and free parking!) – as a traffic attendant said to me some years ago, if the driver moves on, the car isn’t causing a problem any more. If they issue a ticket, the car can stay right where it is and not be ticketed again.

  • AndyB

    And good drivers should use mirrors and check blind spots. I try to do the right thing when I’m on either side of that situation.

    In fairness, with the notable exception of Wednesday night (don’t ask), drivers are generally very considerate to me when I’m cycling. Let me round parked cars? No problem. Leave me space when passing? As much as they can. They don’t even get to see me obey red traffic lights (and I know that confuses pedestrians no end – they’re too used to having cyclists force their way past!)

  • david crookes

    Thanks, Andy. After reflection I must confess that there is another side to the problematical coin! Many of us believe ourselves to be above the law.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    People owns cars, pay enough for doing so too,

    Actually car drivers get a pretty easy ride in Belfast, and I say that as a motorist.

    We’ve pretty decent road infrastructure including an 8-lane motorway and a number of handy bypasses. We don’t have to pay tolls anywhere, parking on-street in Belfast is fairly cheap, and we benefit from low rates of vehicle tax. Quite a lot of city centre office blocks and workplaces have free parking for employees. Compare this with our neighbours to the south.

    My commute from Newtownabbey hasn’t been effected by the bus lanes in Belfast. To be honest if anything I’d say my journey times have become a lot more predictable since they went into place. I typically do the 8 mile journey in 20-25 minutes. You won’t get that in Dublin.

    AndyB notes that many there are many people who “have” to use a car because they live some distance outside of the city. While this is of course true, you can also flip this point to show that having easy and cheap car-related infrastructure encourages people to move out and commute, which keeps the population density of the city low – not necessarily a good thing.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The roads (which receive regular investment) make a profit, do they ?

  • Glenn Clare

    Its a pity most of the bus lanes are not legal. I have got off driving in a bus lane twice because I could show they are not legal. No only are they not legal the DRD paid a fortune to contractors for the work. All you need to do is refer to both the regulations below paying close attention to the road markings and signs that constitute a bus lane and you will see that most of the bus lanes are not legal.

    I contacted the DRD when Conor Murphy was in charge, and the reply stated that the detail covered in the manuals 3 and 5 were guidlines. Guidelines indeed. What they are saying is that they can mark on the road and put up signs as they see fit and the bus lanes are legal, I don’t think so.



  • AndyB

    Authorisation has to be given for variations to the signs in the Traffic Signs Regulations 1997. I think that the DRD minister has that authority in NI, as equivalent of the Secretary of State for Transport in England.

  • Glenn Clare

    I’m not referring to any variations in signage, what I refer to is that the bus lane must meet certain criteria on the road markings and signs to make it legal.

    An easy way to see if the bus lane meets the criteria set down in the manuals is at the start of the bus lane. There should be two arrows on the approach to the bus lane along with two signs. They must be set at a certain distance before the bus lane. The bus lane taper, the broken white ling that runs from the kerb to the solid white line must be at a ratio of 1:10. This means the shortest taper must be at least 30m long.
    This distance is calculated by the distance from the kerb to the outside of the solid white line and this distance must be a minimum of 3m.

    Every bus lane in Belfast does not meet this criteria and as the statutory rule applies to all of the bus lane therefore if one part does not meet the criteria then all of the bus lane is not legal.

  • AndyB

    Actually, I need to point out that the Traffic Signs Manual only holds the status of guidance. Only the Traffic Signs Regulations 1997 is the law – the manual interprets this and effectively says “If you follow this manual, you should be in compliance with the law.”

    It’s the same with the kicker arrows and taper. They are both “should” rather than “must”, which is the key difference, and it’s the same distinction made in the Highway Code.

    If markings do not comply with the Traffic Signs Manual, it falls to the Magistrate or the Independent Adjudicator for tickets issued by NSL to determine whether the motorist still had adequate warning of the prohibition – in other words, whether it’s reasonable. Given that the prohibition on using bus lanes is given by the solid white line (diagram 1049), the words “BUS LANE” (diagram 1048) and of course the blue signs (diagram 959) at the start of the actual bus lane, a Magistrate may well take the view that the advanced sign (diagram 958) and a kicker arrow covered by a parked car before a shortened taper may well be adequate advance notice for a driver who should by then be preparing to move into the general traffic lane and if necessary to stop to wait for a gap.

    For the bored, the relevant regulations for Northern Ireland are at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/1997/386/pdfs/nisr_19970386_en.pdf

  • Glenn Clare

    Thanks, can I ask then is my point about the taper still relevant? The Manual states that: The taper should not be sharper than 1:10. Meaning that a 3m wide bus lane can have a taper of 30m or more but not less???

    Page 103 fig 17-1

  • AndyB

    Not particularly relevant, unless you can show that you could not safely either change lane or stop before the start of the bus lane and were therefore required to continue onwards, ie to avoid an accident.

    Only if the Traffic Signs Regulations specified a minimum taper would you have a case. As far as I know, it doesn’t.

  • aquifer

    Tellfast Bellylaugh in circulation crash shock. ‘Most people who buy our paper are men who own a car, so if we suck up to them in our editorial maybe they will keep paying for the patronising sentimental stuff we spout instead of looking at our girlie pictures on the web” A DRD spokesman refused to be drawn on whether it was nicer to be stuck in a bus lane closer to the city centre, or hang back out in the ‘burbs. “I am on flexi and don’t put up with traffic jams, I just pick up a paper in the morning, drive into my reserved parking space early and have my paper read before the phone rings.” The head of the never never car purchase association said “The speed of traffic is limited by the tiny roads and the traffic light timing, but if people want to make extra room for new cars in buslanes and slow the cyclists and buses down, why should we complain? The Newsprint Standards Authority stated that cyclists and bus operators should pay for more full colour advertising.