Partial success in MP’s unfair bus lane camera campaign

Following an intervention from Reading West MP Alok Sharma, Reading Borough Council has made adjustments to controversial bus lane warning signs on Southcote Lane. However, questions still remain unanswered about the suitability of the font size of the advanced warning signs, which have remained unchanged.

Alok first raised the issue with the Council after he was contacted by a number of affected local residents, including Lieutenant Kenneth Guest, Commanding Officer at The Salvation Army Reading West Corps.

Local residents raised concerns that the bus lane, which is only in operation between the hours of 7.30am and 8.45am, has been used to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for Council coffers after an Appeals Adjudicator ruled against Reading Borough Council in a number of Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) appeal cases, stating that ‘the advance warning signs and the bus lane entry signs do not give adequate information about the bus lane.’ In a further appeal in the case of Norman versus the Council, the Adjudicator’s decision of 2nd May 2012 upheld previous decisions as “the signs do not give adequate information of this bus lane and its time of operation.”

Alok wrote to the Director and Council Manager of Reading Borough Council in order to share his constituents’ concerns. In its reply, the Council states that it has now reviewed the signs in question in the light of the Appeals Adjudicator’s decision. As a result of this review, the Council has confirmed in its letter to Alok that: “Officers have reviewed the signs in question, in the light of Mr Nicholls’s decision. Adjustments have been made to them.”

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request was also made to the Council requesting data on how much money the bus lane had raised and the dimensions of the advance warning signs in question. In the Council’s response measurements were provided for every part of the sign except the times the bus lane was in operation.

Alok said: “I was very surprised to read in the local media the suggestion by the lead Councillor for Transport, Mr Page that I had been misled about the signage issue by my constituents. If that was indeed the case, why has the Council now changed some of the signs? Given the Council’s decision to alter the signs it would appear that the person who has actually been misled is Councillor Page himself.”

Alok continued: “I do continue to have concerns about the advance warning signs which have not yet been changed. The Council has informed me in writing that these advanced directional signs fully comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002. Having consulted with the House of Commons Library Transport specialist, it would appear that the minimum font size for the bus lane operation times should be between 48-60mm. However, the actual height of the font varies between 25-30mm on this part of the signs. I have therefore written to the Secretary of State to provide some clarification on this matter.”

Alok concluded: “Even if the signs are within the statutory minimum requirements, if the Council are serious about enforcing the bus lane and not just nurturing a cash cow, why not listen to local residents, take a pragmatic approach and improve the signposting?”

The FoI request made by Alok, shows that since the installation of a camera at the bus lane in July 2009 to date, more than 9,570 PCNs have been issued. Whilst the Council’s FoI response did provide a precise figure regarding the number of PCNs issued, it did not provide any figure for the revenue raised by the Southcote Lane bus lane, stating instead that “income is not broken down into specific bus lanes.” However, given that the fine for PCNs is £60, with a 50% reduction if paid within 14 days, one can deduce that the Council has received between £287,100 and £574,200 in fines to date.

Lieutenant Kenneth Guest, who successfully appealed against eleven PCNs for this bus lane, said: “I have noticed that the camera signs on the approach to the roundabout have been removed. The advance warning signs remain the same, but what is significant is that a Camera Sign has now been placed underneath the two fluorescent yellow signs on the exit from the roundabout as you enter Southcote Lane. Whilst this is a big step forward I do not believe it is enough to warn the motorist in plenty of time to make a different decision. By the time a motorist has reached the roundabout and indicated to turn into the Southcote Lane bus lane, they are committed! I still want to see bigger, brighter, clearer signage on the approaches.”