A PCN (penalty charge notice) robot at Reading Borough Council issued me with a £30 fine in November for driving in the bus lane at the junction of Pell Street and Southampton Street. I contested this on the grounds that I had wanted to turn left into Pell Street, it was mandatory to join the queue in the left-hand lane to do this, and that queue had already backed up into the bus lane. I claimed it was safer to follow standard – and thus predictable – driving practice at this busy and congested junction rather than cause obstruction and confusion by doing otherwise. I added that forcing drivers to choose between an unsafe or obstructive manoeuvre or a bus lane fine was both unreasonable and unwise.
Reading Borough Council (RBC) dismissed my appeal saying:
When turning left the manoeuvre is no different to any other turn. At a conventional turn you are not permitted to sweep the corner by mounting the footpath and the same rules apply to road that includes a nearside bus lane. You may not use the bus lane to avoid traffic, additionally other motorists behaviour is not an exemption to the bus lane contravention.
RBC’s assertion that motorists cannot take traffic conditions into account – that is, other motorists – when negotiating the white lines they have painted on the town’s roads is a startling insight into council priorities.
I appealed the decision to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, and contested the positioning and field of view of the bus lane CCTV camera, which did not meet the standards of the Bus Lanes (approved devices) (England) order 2005 :
… the camera is capable of producing
(ii) a wider angle image of the carriageway such as will enable information to be provided about any circumstances which may have caused the vehicle to be in the bus lane or the selected area…
The tribunal found in my favour, saying:
Not every crossing of the white line into the bus lane means a contravention has occurred and that a PCN must be issued. It is a question of fact and degree in each case.
The tribunal also commented on the quality of evidence gathered by the council’s CCTV camera, which is discreetly mounted on a lamp post at the end of the bus lane, looking up Southampton Street and away from the junction:
… the camera is set at an angle that prevents a view of the vehicle in the context of the end of the bus lane, which is very close, and I can see no reason why the camera point could not take in a wider angle of the lane. It is therefore impossible to assess the traffic conditions in place beyond the camera position.
It is for the Council to demonstrate that the contravention occurred and I am not satisfied on the limited evidence that it has been able to do so…
Thus, in the view of the tribunal, the Southampton Street bus lane CCTV camera is incapable of collecting adequate evidence for prosecution in this case.
The tribunal also expanded on the leeway given to motorists to manage traffic conditions:
The vehicle is only shown in the bus lane for a very short period of time very close to the signed end of the restriction consistent with the vehicle moving across slightly early to make the left turn and appears to show there was a queue in the left lane which extended into the restricted lane.
The council have proved that they are willing to waste public resources pursuing disingenuous prosecutions with partial evidence from inadequate automated CCTV systems to obtain revenue from drivers who prefer avoiding real accidents over artificial white lines. The moral bankruptcy of the council’s approach beggars belief; it does nothing to preserve bus services in the town and – quite deliberately – makes the roads less safe because it encourages drivers to react to carefully positioned bus lanes and cameras rather than real traffic and pedestrians.
There is now an international revenue-generating industry behind automated PCN cameras, all demanding increased profit and sales. When Reading residents ask for cameras to monitor anti-social behaviour in pedestrian areas, they are usually turned down on the grounds that the council cannot afford to monitor them; such cameras cannot generate the revenue to support themselves. RBC brings itself, and the services it claims to protect, into disrepute if it prioritises revenue-generating enforcement over that which does not.
Incidentally, I disapprove of misusing bus lanes and have only considered doing so when safe and predictable driving seems to be a higher priority. The damage associated with a bus lane fine is less than that associated with a traffic accident, and no driver could shed responsibility for an accident by saying they were trying to avoid a bus lane fine. RBC know this; this is why their approach is both disingenuous and predatory.
If you appeal your penalty charge notice (PCN) to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, the possible fine increases from £30 to £60 and there is no guarantee of success.