Westwood ward Conservative Councillor Tim Mayer is again asking questions of the Coventry City traffic department and city services cabinet member following issues highlighted by local road safety campaigner and uproar on 2 of Coventry’s local Facebook groups.
Cllr Mayer raised questions and moved a motion to refund over 13,000 affected motorists in October 2016 following an error admitted by the Department for Transport over the bus lane signs which led to the alleged unfair fines totaling over £400,000. Coun Mayer stated that although the DfT had admitted the error, the council should look inwardly and write to residents who are affected to ensure they were refunded the amounts taken in error. The council have agreed to refund all effected residents but have disagreed on the point of letting them know.
The latest complaint in this ongoing saga was raised when a member of the public made a Freedom of Information Request in August 2014, asking for confirmation of the bus gate enforcement signage in-situ on the day of 15 March 2014. The member of the public was furnished with the technical plan below. However, the signage hadn’t been there since 2012, let alone on 15 March 2014 and is missing today.
Cllr Mayer has asked why the Council has made drawings in February 2014 including signs which had been missing since 2012 if they weren’t needed. The signage was not in place on the date the requestor specified and hadn’t been for 2 years. For context, drivers from Fairfax Street (Swimming Baths) and drivers from the Old Grammar school (by Burges) get the advance warning signs as per drawing but the drivers from Swanswell pool direction don't get anything due to these missing signs.
A local road safety campaigner believes the council basically removed the No Entry sign and Bus Gate Camera sign when they carried out roadworks and never replaced it. The net result being you don’t find out you can’t turn right particularly as busses on the other side of the bus gate would also obstruct the only Bus Gate sign you could see once it was too late. These concerns are ratified by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.
The missing signage was in-situ until mid-2012, when it disappeared. The Council have filed a drawing with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal when defending appeals against a PCN’s. Therefore, the arbitrator would be misled in to assuming the motorists had been adequately warned in advance as per the technical drawing. Nevertheless, the adjudicators (qualified solicitors and barristers) have ruled the signage is inadequate.
Cllr Mayer has stated that these issues are “very concerning given that senior traffic officers wrote a report to the cabinet in August 2016, basically to ensure Coventry had no future issues with bus gates”. “If this work was done correctly then I don’t see how we couldn’t have discovered this Whittle Arch issue? The hard end of this is that we have heard from a resident who couldn't afford the fine and ended up with £400 in bailiff fees, If it is found that the fine was received due to an error it will be very disappointing and I believe action should be taken quickly to resolve it.”
After further research into the Whittle bus gates it has been shown that only 4 appeals have been rejected at Whittle Arch. Only 4 were dismissed and that's because the motorists involved admitted seeing the signs but blamed sat navs or being unwell so had to drive through it. Total number of allowed appeals: 79. Not contested by the council: 57. 95% of appeals which went to tribunal were either withdrawn or successful. The Deputy Chief Solicitor at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal has said in his own rulings that the Tribunal generally think the signage is not adequate and have written to Coventry Council suggesting they make the signs adequate and to move them. The average number of motorists being caught at Whittle arch in August 2016 was 122 per day. Between 2013 and 2016 58,522 motorists were fined with an income of £1,059,910
Cllr Mayer emailed officers and the cabinet member for City Services on September the 6th to ask for clarification on the allegations posted online and is still waiting for clarification.
Cllr Mayer stated “ My view on this is very simple if you disobey a rule or law you pay for it with whatever the consequence is, however we must be transparent and ensure we are beyond reproach. If our signage is incorrect or missing then we should put our hands up and fix the problem. If people have been fined and we haven’t legislated properly or haven’t put the correct signs up in the correct place we should apologise and refund. Bus gates are intended to be deterrents, they should achieve pedestrian safety and safe and expeditious movement of traffic, particularly public services. It worries me that with these gates we seem to have over an average of 100 cars per day are going through them. This could be seen as evidence we are not achieving either of those goals. Bus gates are not and should not be used to drive revenue income so if these gates are incorrect and the allegations some are missing is right then again I would be pushing for the council to refund all motorists wrongly fined and ask any errors are put right.