Councils won’t stop until they’ve driven us off the road

Just what was the government thinking when it granted councils the powers to levy fines for minor traffic infringements – something which had previously been the preserve of the police? Did it really think they could be trusted, given their record? Daily, they seem to come up with a new ruse – the latest being Edinburgh city council’s deployment of traffic wardens to ride around the city[1] on buses all day in order to try to catch motorists parked in bus lanes. It seems to have decided that they are not currently productive enough, even after issuing 36,000 bus lane fines last year, each of them worth £60.

This is the price we pay for council tax being contained by rules requiring local referendums for rises above a certain level: councils have turned into highwaymen instead, extracting fines for motorists who infringe increasingly bizarre and confusing traffic systems. And no, we shouldn’t be fobbed off by schemes like that announced by Richmond Borough Council which is offering £50 travel vouchers to motorists inconvenienced by Ulez expansion[2] – for a tradesperson who needs a van for their job that will cover just four days' worth of Ulez charges.

Bus lanes at least used to be coloured red so that their presence was obvious. Now they are marked by small signs which, if you are lucky, you might be able to spot amongst the plethora of signs littering our roadsides (the signposts often making life hell for pedestrians, especially partially-sighted ones). Leeds City Council was recently forced to refund 11,000 motorists who had been caught out driving through a "bus gate" suddenly erected in the city centre. What on Earth is a bus gate, many had thought as they drove a route which they had harmlessly driven many times before? It turned out to be yet another devious scheme, where only buses are allowed to use a short stretch of road.    

I am all for clean air, less traffic, facilities such as shops, surgeries and schools provided within a 15-minute stroll. I will always choose to walk if I can. But why do all these noble-sounding green initiatives always end with the same thing: Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras churning out industrial quantities of eye watering fines? Traffic and parking used to be policed with discretion; with police and traffic wardens encouraging vehicles to keep moving. 

Soon after I started driving I remember finding myself accidentally driving down a one way street in an unfamiliar town and encountering a police officer coming the other way. He could easily have fined me, but he made the judgement that he had better things to do with his time and gave me a ticking-off instead. Nowadays, you only have to pause in a box junction for a couple of seconds to be relieved of the equivalent of a year’s road tax.

I would be more convinced by councils’ claims to be encouraging green travel if they weren’t simultaneously trying to rip off public transport users. Sadiq Khan blathers on about air quality to justify his £12.50 daily fee to drive in his expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone. But what is he doing to encourage us to take trains and buses instead? He is abolishing travelcards, which allow travellers to buy a day return to London as well as ride around on tubes and buses, all on one ticket. That will add a tenner to the cost of a day out in London. Fines for rail passengers who mistakenly buy the wrong ticket in a massively confusing system were quietly raised to £100 earlier in the year.    

Money-grabbing councils won’t stop until they have driven us off the roads altogether – at which point they won’t raise any revenue from us at all. But they don’t seem that keen for us to get about by public transport, either. The messaging hasn’t changed since Covid: Stay Home.


  1. ^ ride around the city (
  2. ^ Ulez expansion (