NEW additional road signs are belatedly going up at Coventry’s ‘inadequate’ bus gates – after years of complaints from fined motorists, damning tribunal rulings and denials of problems by council chiefs.
We have also learned Labour council leaders are set to face questions at a full council meeting over their handling of the debacle.
Tens of thousands of motorists appear to have been unfairly fined, according to scores of Traffic Penalty Tribunal’s decisions.
We revealed a fortnight ago how Coventry City Council had collected £1million over less than three years in fines from motorists at just one of the city’s five bus gates alone – by the Whittle Arch in Fairfax Street.
Our front page had highlighted the independent tribunal rulings, which upheld fined motorists’ appeals and criticised ‘inadequate’ road signage, which failed to properly inform drivers they were entering the bus gates.
Council chiefs this week responded to us by continuing to claim the bus gate signage was correct, despite the overwhelming written evidence from the tribunal rulings, some of which we reproduce today (see below).
But a road safety campaigner maintained this week some of the signage remained in breach of government regulations.
Councillor Jayne Innes, city services cabinet member, last month pledged to read – for the first time – the tribunal reports issued over several years.
But, at the same time, she continued to assert the city’s road signage was correct and complaint with Department for Transport regulations – a position previously also adopted by her predecessor Rachel Lancaster, and council highways assistant director Colin Knight.
Campaigner Richard Heneghan, who has for years challenged the council over the issues, told us this week: “Since the story about the tribunal decisions broke last month, the council has been rushing around putting up signage they were being told for years was required but missing.
“They have not told anybody they are doing this work, or explained why, after years of maintaining it was not necessary.
“At Whittle Arch alone, they have been now forced to put up seven signs.
“At Gosford Street, the tribunal has been saying that the bus gate is inadequate because the council has erected the bus gate signs at the END of the bus gate, not the start as required by DfT legislation.
“Therefore, the driver is already in the bus gate before they know it, and in the words of the (tribunal) adjudicator, has no choice other than to go through the bus gate.
“The plan of the bus gate filed with the Traffic Penalty Tribunal contains signage which has NEVER been in place. Therefore, the tribunal is led to believe more signage is in place than it actually is. Nevertheless, the tribunal continue to uphold appeals.
“Instead of erecting large 750mm signs as stated in the DfT authorisation, they have used tiny 450mm niche signs, only intended to be used in areas where either special amenity considerations need to be made or physical constraints (i.e. the large sign can’t fit). This DfT is clear that this is the wording of the legislation. Neither of these considerations apply to this open, standard location.
“Smaller signs are likely to be seen later, and do not become legible until drivers are close to them, with less time to react.”
He added: “The signs do not comply and by reiterating this statement, the Cabinet Member simply reaffirms her inability to understand her portfolio.”
Similar to the Whittle Arch bus gate, 90 per cent of all appeals at Gosford Street bus gate have been successful, said Mr Heneghan.
COUN JAYNE INNES RESPONSE
Following our latest enquiries concerning new signs going up and the tribunal rulings, councillor Jayne Innes, cabinet member for city services, responded this week with the following statement:
“As soon as I was made aware that the adjudicator was making reference to signage I ordered a full review of all signs at the Whittle arch bus gate.
“I was reassured by my officers that the signage was correct. And they were right – all of the signs required and approved by the department for transport were, and remain, in place.
“In fact none of the new signs impact on our ability to issue bus gate fines. They are additional, not required signs.
“But as I’ve always been clear that bus gates are in place for road safety reasons and to ease traffic flow, not to trap motorists, we agreed that we would add some additional signs.
“These have now gone in. We replaced two signs that had gone missing and added two extra signs on Hales Street – one just past Swanswell and one just after the turning from Bishop Street.
“They are all back from the bus gate to act as an earlier warning to drivers. But I must make clear that the bus gate is not enforced against these signs. And I must repeat that all of the original signs were approved by the department for transport.
“There are over 15,000 road signs in the city and we have a policy of not over-cluttering our streets with road signs, and we work hard to ensure we find the right balance between communicating the messages we need to, and ensuring the city looks good.
“I make no apology for caring about the way the city looks – I know how important that is to local people and to the others who work, shop and visit.
“Now I’d really like to put an end to this. The signs comply. Additional warnings are in place. Most people adhere to the rules and do not drive through the bus gate. But anyone that does will receive a penalty charge notice.”
EXTRACTS FROM SOME OF TRIBUNAL RULINGS, WHICH UPHELD MOTORISTS’ APPEALS AGAINST FINES AT WHITTLE ARCH BUS GATE…
Stephen Knapp, Adjudicator, 12/12/2016…
“This restriction (no entry to bus gate) has been the subject of a number of appeals to the Tribunal and Adjudicators have generally taken the view that the signing is not adequate.
“Whilst it is entirely a matter for the Council I would suggest that placing the offside sign on the central reservation and using a clear carriageway marking would be a big improvement.
“However on the basis of the evidence which I have I am not satisfied that the signing was adequate and so I find that the contravention did not occur.
“The appeal is allowed and Mr (name of driver) has nothing to pay.”
Edward Solomons, Adjudicator, 25/10/2016…
“I am also puzzled that Coventry say that no road surface markings are required. No explanation for the absence of such marking has been provided.
I am not satisfied on the evidence lodged in this case that the signage of the restriction met the required standard and provided adequate information to road users of the restriction that applied.
“In particular, a road surface marking is an important element of the warning provided and no explanation has been provided for the failure to provide this.. I find that the signage was inadequate.”
Paul Pearson, Adjudicator, 26/10/2016…
“She followed a large double deck bus. Whilst there are signs on either side of the road it seems likely that from her vantage point in a small Mini motor car, those signs would have been obscured.. No doubt Ms (name of driver) was more concerned with avoiding a collision.
.. I am not satisfied the signage in the area was adequate. The appeal is allowed and I direct the Council to cancel the PCN (Penalty Charge Notice).”
Shan Cole, Adjudicator, 08/12/2016…
“I accept that there were signs in place on the day which led him to believe that he could not turn right, as he intended, and instead led him to drive through the bus gate. I therefore find that the contravention did not occur and I allow this appeal.”
Annie Hockaday, Adjudicator, 08/02/2017…
“It is difficult for drivers to understand where the restriction applies because Hales St is divided into two lanes separated by a central reservation. The sign on the right is placed far right of the oncoming carriageway and not on the central reservation.
..On the evidence available to me, I am not satisfied that the signing was adequate.”