CONTROVERSIAL bus gate restrictions on the Wicker have been branded a ‘licence to print money’ - after generating up to £440,000 in a year for Sheffield Council.
Some 7,295 motorists were sent fixed penalty charges in 12 months - an average of one an hour - for flouting restrictions which ban private motorists crossing the inner ring road.
The bus gate was set up in 2007 after the inner ring road was built, with enforcement starting in 2008, to speed up bus journeys along the Wicker - a major bus route into the city centre.
But although the council installed extra clear signs, after motorists won appeals in the first months of operation, some drivers say they are still getting lost and being fined inadvertently.
Figures for fines at the Wicker over the 12 months to February were requested from the council by Jason Clarke, from Lodge Moor, whose wife Linda received a penalty after driving to Wicker Pharmacy.
Mr Clarke branded the fines ‘a licence to print money’.
He said: “I was told that between March 2012 and February this year, the council issued 7,295 such penalties. That’s just under one penalty charge every hour.
“Depending on how promptly people paid the fine, income generated would have been between £218,500 and £437,700.
“It would not be unreasonable to conclude from these extraordinary figures that the present road signs in the area are not sufficiently clear.
“Given the Wicker Pharmacy is one of the most important in the city due to its extended opening hours, it seems the bus lane charges are actually a cynical exploitation of people’s need to collect prescriptions when driving in an area they are unfamiliar with.”
People sent fixed penalties by the council pay £30 fine if they settle up within 14 days, or £60 if not.
Rob Prior, a company director from Broomhill and a member of Sheffield Motorists’ Forum, called on the council to send only warning letters to people who have not been caught before and fine only persistent offenders.
“Of those 7,000 people, how many are local?” he asked. “I suspect many be people from out of town trying to get to the hotels at Victoria Quays.
“The road system down there is a complete nightmare on a main gateway to the city. For a first time offence the council should not send anything, and send a letter the second time before starting to issue fines.”
In the first seven weeks enforcement cameras operated on the Wicker in 2008, some 4,341 motorists were fined, paying a total of £99,225.
Sheffield Council said the current number of fines a week is a fifth of the levels at the start of 2008 - 140 a week, compared with 620.
Cabinet member Coun Leigh Bramall said: “People living in Sheffield should know by now there is a bus gate. This issue has been greatly publicised. We would advise people to check signs at any junction and make sure they don’t fall foul of restrictions.”
Coun Bramall said income from penalty notices pays for extra enforcement of bus gates and bus lanes, and other highways schemes.
Sheffield Council considered reducing operating hours of the Wicker bus gate to peak times only three years ago.
But councillors decided against the plan due to safety concerns that traffic might make a banned turn across a pedestrian crossing.
IN NUMBERS - WICKER BUS GATE FINES:
March 2012 to Feb 2013: 7,295
Maximum income to Sheffield Council: £437,700
Years bus gate has been operating: 5