THE county council has raked in more than £400,000 in fines from drivers illegally using a bus gate in Colchester.

Resident Richard Piatkowski was caught out at the bus lane in Station Road, Hythe, at the beginning of February.

He paid the fine which was reduced from £60 to £30 but unsuccessfully appealed against the decision.

Mr Piatkowski was keen to find out how many other drivers had been caught and he submitted a Freedom of Information request to Essex County Council.

The data showed between November 2017, when cameras were activated at the site, until the end of January, a total of 18,017 fines were issued.

And he found a total of £434,694 has been collected in penalty charge notices.

Mr Piatkowski said: “I appealed the fine on the basis of technicality as they said it was a bus lane but it’s a bus gate. It’s very complicated but it was refused.

“The signage is relatively new. I’m 47 and when I passed my test it used to say ‘buses only’, but now it’s just a picture of a bus. I drove down there oblivious.”

Permanent enforcement cameras were installed in September 2017 to deter drivers from using these routes illegally.

They were at Hythe Station Road, Hythe Hill and North Station Road in Colchester.

For a limited time, warning notices were sent to drivers who wrongly used the bus gates, giving them an opportunity to adjust their habits before penalty charge notices were issued.

Richard said all drivers should be given one chance to make a mistake before being slapped with a fine.

He said: “Every person should get one chance. The county council suggested there are road markings well in advance but like most street furniture, how much attention do you pay?”

He is also unhappy as the county council said evidence was taken from a driver’s eye view, which shows the blue Bus Route Only signs are clearly visible.

He said: “This is inaccurate as the view is clearly from some height above the vehicle and so does not represent the view of a driver.”

The county council said any fines received from penalty charge notices are reinvested to help improve Essex’s road and transport network.

We contacted Essex County Council for a comment. A spokesman said: “There are numerous signs at the bus gate and also well in advance of the bus gate on the surrounding road network and also the words Bus Gate are painted on the road.

“The figures are not ‘disproportionate’ against other sites we enforce.

“It may be some drivers are not observant enough or do not understand the signs, but many drivers just decide to “chance it”.

“We all know level crossings are dangerous places, and also help with bus punctuality. It is not designed or intended as a ‘money making’ scheme.”