Exclusive: Thousands of Leeds motorists slapped with ‘stealth tax’ fines

Leeds City Council generated almost �2m in 2015/16 by fining drivers caught on camera in bus lanes.
Leeds City Council generated almost �2m in 2015/16 by fining drivers caught on camera in bus lanes.

Thousands of motorists were slapped with controversial fines for driving in bus lanes in Leeds last year, a YEP investigation can reveal.

Nearly £2m in revenue was generated for Leeds City Council through penalty charge notices (PCNs) for drivers caught on camera in bus lanes in the city.

Should councils give drivers a warning the first time they stray into a bus lane?

Should councils give drivers a warning the first time they stray into a bus lane?

Today furious campaigners are calling for a warning system to be introduced before these kind of penalty fines are handed out in future.

“It’s absolutely a stealth tax – it’s just a way to grab money,” said Janet Porter from Pudsey, who was caught on a camera as she unknowingly entered a bus lane on Kirkstall Road.

“It’s not desperately dangerous, it’s an inconvenience to buses and cyclists. People aren’t deliberately flouting the laws. It’s a high price to pay for a momentary mistake.”

The YEP investigation, based on a series of Freedom of Information requests to local authorities across the county, found that more than 200,000 fines were issued last year across Yorkshire.

Of those fines issued in the year to March 2016, 59,065 fines were handed out in Leeds.

In total, the penalty charge notices generated £5,899,632 for Yorkshire councils last year, including nearly £2.3m in Bradford, £1.9m in Leeds, and £1.1m in Sheffield.

Leeds has 23 cameras in operation in the district, compared to 21 in Bradford, seven moveable and seven fixed in Sheffield, eight in Hull and seven in Kirklees.

Ms Porter said: “It’s just a money making venture – they could at least give people a chance. It’s an absolute rip-off.

“People need to be given a warning chance. If you’re a visitor to a city, you won’t know your way as well as someone who knows the area.

“Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t think we should be penalised.”

The AA has said use of cameras to penalise drivers should always be a last resort, arguing that data for problem areas needs to be analysed carefully.

“Local authorities who are seeing a large income from a particular bus lane need to look past the haul of fines and investigate why so many drivers are caught,” said spokesman Jack Cousens.

“More often than not, the design of the road and signage can be improved. Councils should look to rectify these issues rather than see drivers as wallets on wheels.”

Ms Porter, 60, was fined earlier this year for driving in a bus lane on Kirkstall Road.

“I was just turning left, it was right at the end of the bus lane and I didn’t even know I was in the wrong,” she said. “I’ve never been down that road since – I’m too wary of getting fined again.

“They need to find another way of funding themselves. Why don’t they concentrate on people who are driving dangerously by using their phones?”

But Leeds City Council’s executive member for transport, Coun Richard Lewis, defended the policy.

He said bus lanes, clearly visible and signed, were a key part of the city’s commitment to reducing congestion and improving traffic flow.

“The vast majority of motorists who don’t flout the rules are supportive of enforcement as they recognise that buses are part of the solution and that those who compromise bus lanes are acting selfishly and without regard for their fellow road users,” he said.

“To be clear: if you don’t drive in bus lanes then you won’t receive a fine!

“With more than 250,000 bus journeys made every day in Leeds, it is vital bus priority measures are kept clear to help keep the city moving.“