Well over 1,000 motorists have been caught breaching bus lane rules within just days of a new monitoring scheme beginning.
Seven cameras were activated on June 1, designed to keep watch on private motorists using Belfast city’s bus lanes.
Within the first four days of the scheme, the cameras had captured 1,140 infringements by drivers.
A bedding-in period is running at the moment, during which any motorist who is caught entering the city’s bus lanes will get a warning letter.
However, from June 22, they will start being issued with fines of £90 – although this penalty will be reduced to £45 if paid within 14 days.
If the number of recorded breaches continues at the same rate as they did over the first four days, it suggests that fines of more than £128,000 could be racked up during the course of every working week (or roughly £64,000, if all such fines are paid promptly).
The AA – which has previously warned that some UK authorities use such cameras as a means of “harvesting fines on an industrial scale” – said the latest numbers are likely to lead to a degree of “dissent” from drivers.
All of the money from the fines goes back to the Department for Regional Development (DRD), in charge of the Province’s transport network.
It said: “Any surplus money from enforcing bus lanes will be reinvested into the provision of public transport.”
Translink, the Province’s public transport provider, had its subsidy cut by £13m for the year 2015/16.
In response to the suggestion the cameras will simply be seen as a revenue-raising tool, the DRD said: “We would urge people to obey the rules of bus lanes in order to avoid getting a penalty.
“The reason for introducing camera enforcement of bus lanes is to deter people from driving in them.
“It’s expected the number of contraventions will be higher initially but the experience from other cities across the UK is that the level of contraventions will reduce as driver behaviour changes and fewer people drive in bus lanes.”
Six static cameras are based at Castle Street, East Bridge Street, Donegall Square East, Donegall Square South, Great Victoria Street and College Street East.
In addition, a mobile unit is also looking out for breaches.
Infringements of bus lanes can be dealt with by the PSNI, and are classed as criminal offences.
However, if caught by the DRD’s cameras, they will be dealt with as civil offences.
Announcing the arrival of the bus lane cameras at the end of May, minister Danny Kennedy said: “The enforcement measures are aimed squarely at the drivers who illegally use bus lanes to jump queues and cut across traffic.
“These drivers can be a hazard to themselves, other road users, cyclists and pedestrians.
“They can also delay the progress of passengers opting to use our sustainable public transport service.”
Despite their name, Belfast’s bus lanes can usually be used by public hire taxis, emergency vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles.
Signs at the start of each bus lane indicate which vehicles can use them.