A STAGGERING 732 motorists have been slapped with fines in just six months for parking in bus stops after being snared by a camera car.
Hartlepool Borough Council launched a £40,000 camera car in May, with the state-of-the-art vehicle taking photographs of cars parked illegally outside of schools, in bus stops, on cycle paths or in areas where waiting is prohibited.
In total, 1,202 tickets have been issued to drivers caught flouting the law.
But well over half of that total is made up of tickets issued by the camera car to vehicles snapped in bus stops across Hartlepool.
And while school run drivers, who were initially targeted by the camera car in an attempt to improve road safety, appear to have heeded the warnings, council chiefs are now trying to get the message across about the risks of parking in bus stops.
Phil Hepburn, the council’s parking services manager, said: “The figures for bus stops and waiting areas are still higher than we would like, and it appears while drivers have listened to the warnings about the school run, there are still too many drivers willing to take a risk by pulling up in bus stops.
“It has always been an offence to park in a bus stop, whether it is someone just pulling in to drop someone off, or actually leaving the car while they run into a shop or go to the cashpoint, for example.
“The message we got out when this scheme was launched seemed to centre around schools, but by looking at the figures it does appear that it is taking longer to get the message out about bus stops and other restricted areas.
“We are not getting repeat offenders when we look at the bus stop offences, so people are taking notice when the penalty notice lands on their doormat.
“But when we look at the figures going right back to the launch, there doesn’t appear to be any downward trend and the figures are fairly constant.”
The launch sparked a storm of protest from drivers slapped with £60 tickets, with accusations that the council was using the car as a “cash-cow”.
Local authority chiefs denied those allegations, insisting the purpose of the car was to improve road safety, particularly around schools where congestion causes problems at peak times.
Since youngsters across Hartlepool returned to school in September, just two drivers have been penalised for illegally leaving their vehicles at the school gates.
Mr Hepburn added: “Obviously while the schools were off there was minimum enforcement in those areas, but people need to be aware that the restrictions near schools are enforceable at all times, not just when the schools are open.
“In the six-week break, the figures were very low which is what we want.”
The total of 1,202 tickets issued could potentially see the council rake in £72,120, though people do have the right to appeal any penalty notices and are offered a reduced fine if they pay within 14 days.
The most tickets issued by the car came in the third week of the scheme, with 141 drivers caught on camera, but figures for last week reveal only 15 motorists were hit with fines for offences across the board.
While the car continues to monitor schools, the area near Ward Jackson Primary School, in Clark Street, is not currently being targeted after a town motorist pointed out that parking restrictions were not enforcable in that area.
As previously reported in the Mail, 57-year-old resident Leo Moran, from The Oval, was given a £70 fine for parking on double yellow lines, but after a lengthy appeal process council bosses acknowledged there was an “anomaly” in the design of the lines and the signs posted in the street.
Mr Hepburn added: “The issues raised through that particular case are still being investigated, and we are carrying out thorough checks to ensure there are no other anomalies around the other schools in the town.”