How new Bath bus gate signs have left council counting the cost
Council chiefs are having to plug a £1.6 million hole in their budget after new signs at Bath's controversial bus gate reduced the number of drivers being fined.
Bath and North East Somerset Council has lost £736,000 in fixed penalty notices since it installed clearer warning signs for the bus lane in Northgate Street.
Motorists had long complained that the traffic system was so confusing and badly signposted that the local authority was benefiting from unsuspecting drivers unused to the layout of the city centre.
But since the signs were updated last year, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people being handed the £60 automatic fine.
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Of the overall £1.6 million shortfall, £1.4 million is in the transport budget, which has been hit by a number of factors including a £150,000 drop in the amount brought in by traffic wardens, which has been blamed on staff turnover and training, and a £141,000 reduction in the amount of money coming in from the sale of staff parking permits, because of the number of workers who have been made redundant.
There has also been a dramatic drop of £421,000 in income from the city's car parks, particularly the ones at Avon Street and Charlotte Street, due to a decline in shoppers because of the recession, wet weather and Olympics, and in Keynsham because of the closure of the civic centre car park.
A spokesman for the local authority said: "National factors have heavily influenced the level of parking income being received by the council.
"For example, more people are using public transport, the Olympics drained away many potential visitors to locations outside London, and rising fuel prices are making motorists think twice before making car journeys. The end result is fewer cars coming into the city and a reduction in our income. The additional parking option of SouthGate is also having an effect."
He added: "In respect of the bus gate, we have taken on board comments by members of the public and the Traffic Penalty Tribunal to make signage even clearer and warn people much earlier on that bus lanes exist.
"This has had a positive effect in reducing the number of people falling foul of the rules and reducing congestion in the city centre, but has also reduced the amount raised by penalty charges."
The Liberal Democrat council's financial planning has been criticised by the opposition Conservative party, which has responded angrily to suggestions that some of the extra money could be found by taking £100,000 from a community projects fund.