The M4 Games lane came into operation on Monday, but despite a ban on all vehicles except black cabs and official Olympic transport, no organisation has taken responsibility for issuing fines.
The BBC's Tom Edwards highlighted yesterday that although the Metropolitan Police will monitor the lane, they will not issue fines to drivers who stray into it. He said:
Neither the Highways Agency, the Met nor the local authority will confirm that they are going to police the Olympics traffic only lane. The bottom line is it seems they're relying on the goodwill of motorists to stay out.
Despite the 32 mile tailback on the M4 on Monday being largely caused by an accident, some doomsday-style reporting appeared to suggest that the Games lane was at the root of the jam. Curiously, this particular Telegraph report uses a photo showing a traffic jam on a road where the lane is clearly signposted as not yet being in operation.
The lanes appear to be causing widespread confusion — although they don't come into operation until 25 July, many drivers are already avoiding them. An official Londonist survey (well, a quick Facebook poll anyway) revealed that drivers are afraid of making an honest mistake and being landed with a penalty. Hardly surprising given the usual rapacious enforcement of traffic infringements in London. But drivers who make a mistake could escape the £130 fine, the Standard has reported from an unnamed source:
“We are not going to be issuing tickets if motorists stray temporarily or by accident into the lanes. We are not looking to penalise or fine people — what we want is compliance. If we get to the end of the Games without issuing a single ticket then that will be judged a 100 per cent success. But motorists found to be using the lanes deliberately will be penalised.”
Motorists are also reporting signs showing different start dates for the same lanes and we've certainly seen conflicting signage on the Bow to Leytonstone section of the A12. A much-publicised choice between the Scylla and Charybdis of a camera-enforced bus lane and an Olympic lane near Russell Square has since been explained — the bus lane will not be in operation when the Olympics lane is but there is no signage to advise this. Last minute jitters about traffic enforcement during the Games and fears of city-wide gridlock have already led to a suggestion that the lanes might be suspended if traffic jams reach sufficiently epic proportions.
Black cabbies, irate over their exclusion from the Olympic lanes, staged a protest in Parliament Square on Tuesday, although they are allowed in the M4 lane. A further two protests are planned for next week, including one on the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Cyclists have also been banished from the lanes and face having their bikes impounded if they don't pay the £130 fine. We suspect that more cyclists than drivers will get away with nipping into the lanes though — unless a police officer is on hand to collar them, identifying them from CCTV footage will be difficult.
Just in case any Londonist readers are tempted to test the M4 lane enforcement, the BBC reported again today that the Met will patrol the area, so even if no particular organisation decides to start issuing fines, you'll still face the embarrassment of a stern telling off by the roadside.
Photo by zefrog in the Londonist Flickr pool.