A STAGGERING 6,405 fines have been issued in two months to drivers for straying into bus lanes in Blackburn with Darwen.
The Lancashire Telegraph can exclusively reveal Town Hall bosses generated an income of between £192,150 and £384,300 since it introduced its controversial sanctioning system along the £40million Pennine Reach bus route.
Motorists who have driven in the bus lanes have received penalty notices of £60 reduced to £30 if paid within 21 days.
Since October 1 only buses, Hackney Cabs and cyclists have been allowed to use the specially designated lanes around the borough.
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The lanes have been labelled 'money spinners' and business chiefs have warned they will lead to Christmas shoppers abandoning Blackburn and Darwen in favour of other venues.
However, council chiefs said the camera-operated lanes were a condition of the Government's investment in the Pennine Reach scheme and said the money generated was ringfenced to be spent on transport.
Blackburn MP Kate Hollern urged the council to 'exercise discretion' in the cases of those penalised for making a 'genuine mistake' under the new system.
The council's highways boss, Cllr Phil Riley, said: "I am disappointed so many people appear to be unable to negotiate their way correctly avoid finding themselves in bus lanes and getting these fines.
"The bus lanes have been introduced as part of the Pennine Reach improvement and the intention is simply to allow bus transport between Darwen, Blackburn and Accrington to be as efficient as possible.
"The money generated has to be spent on transport. I would hope as people get more used to the layouts this high level of offences drops."
Cllr Riley said there were no plans to improve signage on the lanes.
But Blackburn and District Chamber of Trade president, Tony Duckworth, branded the charges 'unjust entrapment'.
He said: "It is disgusting and an unjust entrapment by the council.
"Some of the bus lanes are so poorly designed it is confusing to know where they begin and end.
"It will definitely discourage people coming into town to shop at this important time of year for businesses."
Darwen MP Jake Berry said: “Bus lanes need to be enforced but the council should not use them as a cashpoint for taxing motorists who stray inadvertently into them.
“It needs to display discretion and balance when considering whether to require payment from motorists who may have simply made a mistake.”
Mrs Hollern said if 'discretion' was not shown the revenue raised would be seen as 'another tax on motorists'.
She said: "That is an amazing figure and better signs are definitely needed.
"I think the council need to strike a balance here if so many people are being given tickets and use their discretion in enforcing any fines.
"They need to give drivers a period of grace to get used to the system and change their habits or it looks like another tax on motorists.
"On the other hand I have seen some crazy drivers using the bus lanes to undertake other vehicles which is dangerous.
"These motorists should definitely be penalised if caught on camera."
But the penalty notice scheme has received the backing of the area's taxi boss.
Mohammed Younis, chairman of the Blackburn with Darwen Taxi Drivers Association, said: “We are very grateful to the council for agreeing a compromise allowing our taxis to use the Pennine Reach bus lanes except at certain key junctions where public transport needs priority.
“The borough and county have spent a lot of money on this project so it is right they should be able to keep the bus lanes clear.
“They are correct to issue penalties and fines for motorists who drive in or encroach on these lanes which are meant for buses, taxis and cyclists.
“Motorists must take care to respect the rules so buses can make the best us of them.”
Martin Eden, director of environment at the council, said: “Any extra money from these penalty notices will be re-invested in highways and transport which includes road safety and improvement works which will benefit all road users.
“The misuse of bus lanes can severely impact on journey times can incredibly frustrating for drivers who obey the rules to see those who don't driving in the bus lane and we need to let drivers know that there will be consequences for using these lanes.
"We are committed to improving bus routes through the Pennine Reach scheme, increasing the number of people who want to use buses in Blackburn and Darwen and reduce traffic congestion.”