Council refunds bus lane fines: can you claim?

bus lane signAdam Peck/Press Association Images

Hertfordshire County Council has confirmed it will be refunding motorists who were fined for using a bus lane in Hemel Hempstead, after the Traffic Penalty Tribunal ruled that signs were unclear and unlawful, so the fines were unenforceable. It's going to cost them over £1 million.

So what went wrong, and how can you challenge fines you think are unfair?

The case

The bus lane in question was on Moor End Road and went live on 25 July last year: penalties were issued from 8 August. In the intervening period 34,932 Penalty Charge Notices were raised, of which 30,335 have been paid. The payments received are approximately £935,000 but because of costs the council only actually received about £135,000.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Nick Hollingshurst has campaigning for changes from the very first month, arguing that signs were restricted and that the way road markings were written meant drivers only saw them after they'd already crossed the bus lane.
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The case was taken to the tribunal, where it ruled: "the restriction is unenforceable because Hertfordshire County Council have failed in their duty ... reasonably to bring the effect of the order to the attention of road users."

Hollingshurst was delighted, saying: "As ever, the Tories at Herts County Council fail to listen when they don't like the message. They were clearly wrong on the issue, remained wrong, denied they were wrong and even said they were surprised people were saying they were wrong at the point when they finally got into serious trouble with a legal tribunal."

The council says it will write to everyone affected, and has asked people not to contact them about this until they have received their letter.

What about you?

It's a victory for local drivers, but what about you? What if you think you have been unfairly fined for using a bus lane?

Nowadays you will usually be sent a photograph of you breaking the rules along with your penalty charge notice. If there isn't one, your first step should be to write and request one. If you did break the rules and there's a photo to prove it, you may still be able to appeal on a number of different grounds.

It may be that you were in the bus lane when it wasn't in operation, the restrictions weren't properly signed (they may be in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, be obscured, or be of the wrong design. There may also not be enough of them along the length of the lane), the road markings weren't compliant, or the traffic order was invalid. You can also appeal on compassionate grounds.

If you think you have grounds, the first step is to appeal directly to the council. If they refuse to cancel the fine you can appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

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