By Alisdair Suttie 29 December 2010
Wednesday 29 December 2010. Fleet Voice Column.
It’s off to Edinburgh now, but before you get your hopes up about a festive break for Hogmanay in Scotland’s capital, let’s brace ourselves for yet more driver-focused cash-sapping. Oh yes, in an announcement we’re sure Edinburgh City Council hoped would be lost in the seasonal spirit, this anti-car, anti-driver council has hatched a plan to spend up to £600,000 on bus lane cameras.
It’s not the generally pointless nature of these cameras that gets our bile rising, it’s the profligate waste of tax payers’ money at time when dear old prudence is the best policy. This is all the more shocking when, as anyone who has ventured into the Scottish capital in the past five or so weeks can attest to, the streets have been treacherous with ice and snow.
Edinburgh council has proved itself useless at clearing snow and ice, gritting roads sufficiently and keeping one of the UK’s major cities functioning without major disruption. If it wasn’t for the actions of many private individuals and the Army to clear snow, Edinburgh would likely still be under piles of the white stuff, thaw or no thaw.
The cunning plan is to introduce five bus lane cameras and a core offence viewing processing system. In other words, five cameras to spot careless drivers and someone to lick the envelopes all those lovely fines will be sent out in.
We at Fleet Voice do not condone drivers using bus lanes during peak hours when public transport can, sometimes, provide an effective alternative to other methods of getting about. Edinburgh even allows cars into bus lanes outside of peak hours at present.
So why are we getting upset about this when other cities already have bus lane cameras? London notably has had bus lane cameras for a number of years, but they have resolutely failed to improve congestion or pay for themselves. This is almost certainly the fate that awaits Edinburgh and its plan to shovel £600,000 down the drain when most public bodies are being asked to prune their spending and consider every penny.
The five cameras will cost around £240,000 to put in place and set up, while running costs of £120,000 per year are envisaged to keep these five cameras working. Quite how it costs £24,000 per annum to keep a single fixed CCTV camera working, even if it has automatic number plate recognition technology, is beyond us. All we know is that maybe we should be looking at getting into this business of dipping unsuspecting car drivers’ pockets instead of grafting away to earn an honest crust.
Altogether, over the three years this bus lane camera system is set to run – oh, yes, it’s not even a commitment to put it in permanently – that’s £600,000. However, a report for Edinburgh council says the project could pay for itself in five years. This crazy arithmetic means generating 4000 £30 fines every year for five years, which assumes the council will retain the cameras for the extra two years required for this mad-cap project to break even.
Now, most of you out there in fleet world will be used to the hard realities of business and consider a break-even at the five-year mark a poor investment. When this is dependent on punishing drivers, hoping that there are 4000 miserable souls every year to persecute, it’s all the more crack pot. Consider that Edinburgh’s police officers managed to issue just 602 bus lane fines in the whole of 2010 and the council’s maths looks very shaky.
It looks even more shaky when you realise there will be further associated costs with running this scheme for the extra two years its own report states is needed for it to break even. Should it ever pay itself off, which seems very unlikely, the excess will then be spent on the council’s local transport strategy. I’m amazed they even have a strategy.
This amazement soon turns to shock when we discover the money to pay for this obnoxious scheme is not even being squandered from existing funds. Nope, Edinburgh council is borrowing the money like a bargain-obsessed January sales shopper in the hope the scheme will generate enough revenue to cover its costs. The only way this will be possible is for the fines to be so indiscriminately imposed that it will make Edinburgh’s already pathetic transport policy even more of a laughing stock.
Let’s not forget this is the council that decided to re-introduce trams as part of an integrated transport policy only to become mired in a dispute with the German contractors installing the tram lines. Now, Edinburgh council is not wholly to blame for the ridiculous situation with the trams, but surely this £600,000 and the money no doubt spent behind the scenes to investigate the idea, generate the tender and then put it in place would be better spent actually finishing one transport scheme rather than starting another?
The canny among you may spot a link here: the tram budget may dwarf the bus lane camera scheme’s, but if you make life so miserable for car drivers in the city, they’ll be forced to try public transport. Hey presto, you have the demand for trams and free-flowing buses and a large number of dissatisfied drivers who still need to use a car as part of their daily commute into and out of the city.
Convener of Edinburgh City Council’s transport committee, Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, said: ‘Having invested heavily in improving the quality and reliability of our award-winning bus service, it is frustrating that a minority of drivers are flouting the law and causing unnecessary delays, hence these measures.’ To call this approach as subtle as an air raid would be an understatement.
Critics have also spotted this sledge hammer being used to crack a very minor nut. The Association of British Drivers’ Hugh Bladon said: ‘What a stupid and hideous way to waste half a million pounds. The mindset of Edinburgh council seems to be that they hate anyone who drives a car. They need to get a life.’
Not sure they need to get a life, but they certainly need to get a grip on reality and realise that spending this gross amount of borrowed money on such a hair-brained scheme to capture a tiny minority of offenders is utter madness.
For anyone venturing to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, have a great time. For anyone thinking of driving to Edinburgh from March 2011 onwards, when this crazy bus lane camera scheme is set to kick off, there’s a very good city bypass that will take you to all sorts of other destinations in Scotland. Just give Edinburgh a miss as the council is after your cash.
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