Visitors to town receive two-thirds of traffic ban fines

NO-GO: Apps direct drivers through the bus gate

OUT-OF-TOWN visitors travelling through the Mount Pleasant Road bus gate have received two-thirds of the fines issued by the Borough Council, according to new figures uncovered by the Times.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that since full enforcement commenced on April 1, 2023, only 34 per cent of the penalties issued by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) were to vehicles registered in the Borough.

This means a majority of the those fined for using the bus gate in front of the War Memorial are motorists who likely live outside the Borough, possibly in neighbouring districts or counties.

Being unfamiliar with the recent changes, they are potentially less aware of the new road layouts and penalties attached.

One of those visitors was Nigel Skinner, from Four Elms in Sevenoaks, who was surprised to receive a warning notice from Tunbridge Wells Council. As a result, he started his own investigations.

Mr Skinner told the Times that while travelling to Fordcombe from North Farm Road, “I decided the simplest route would be up Camden Road, straight across on to Monson Road, hang a left to the main traffic lights next to the Town Hall and turn right up to the Common. But a couple of weeks later, I received a warning letter.

“I had no idea it was a bus lane. It was quiet and there were no buses. Initially I was confused, so checked the signs on Google Street View to see where I had gone wrong.

“I was probably concentrating more on other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. I was vaguely aware of a sign halfway down Monson Road, but thought it referred to a side road.

“In retrospect, I could have either done a U turn or turned back at the Town Hall end, but neither of these options are ideal, especially in the interests of pedestrian safety.

“Is this intended to make residents lives quieter (lives) and improve air quality, or just raise funds for the local Council?”

The road layout changes and traffic signs have been a recent subject of controversy among residents and motorists in Tunbridge Wells, and an online petition carrying more than 600 signatures is calling for the scheme to be scrapped.

Last month, the Times revealed that the road signage was not compliant with government regulations. Since then, Kent County Council (KCC) has covered up the incorrect legends for the bus gate, but it is not just the signs on which the motorists rely for directions.

Sat navs and mapping apps, like Google and Apple, still direct unsuspecting drivers through the bus gate, costing them the hefty fine.

To go from Newton Road to Tunbridge Wells Railway station, Google Maps, Apple Maps and Bing Maps continue to send drivers through the bus gate.

Motorists should be sent back up Monson Road, following the roads, going right until meeting Mount Pleasant Road from Crescent Road, reaching the station.

However, Mr Skinner is not alone. Thousands of visitors have been sent warning letters for driving through the bus gate for the first time. Others, however, are not as lucky.

Margaret Jones, 75, from Frant in East Sussex, was shocked to receive a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) after turning right on to the bus lane from York Road. It was her first offence.

She told the Times: “I had recently been to Sheffield, where I used my phone to navigate. When the fine arrived in the post, I assumed it was from there, but I was shocked to see it was from Tunbridge Wells.”

Ms Jones explained how that was the first time she has driven through the bus lane but received a fine six days later instead of the standard warning letter on the first offence.

“I don’t usually go to Tunbridge Wells”, she continued, “I had no idea this road had become a bus lane only, so if there were signs to indicate this, they were not clearly marked.

“This will definitely have an effect on local shops and cafes at the top of town when visitors don’t come because of the confusing one-way system and (people) don’t want to be fined.”

When asked about the disproportionate number of visitors being issued with PCNs, a spokesperson for TWBC said: “We are aware that more than half of the Penalty Charge Notices issued during April have been to vehicles registered outside the Tunbridge Wells Borough.

“This number includes vehicles registered to businesses based outside the Borough and people who may consider Tunbridge Wells their hometown but live in another district.

“There are signs in place to notify motorists of the restriction. We talk regularly to Kent County Council about the signs and let them know if there are areas of confusion.

“The Council has an appeals system in place, and we are happy to consider any appeal from inside or outside the Borough.”

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