Regulations are commonly enforced by fines. Economic logic says that the level of fines should be set high enough to discourage most of the violations, and if the laws are being violated frequently that means that the penalties are set too low. But that’s not how British politicians and businesspeople think. I commented before about how the Conservatives seem to think that high levels of speeding and parking violations are prima facie evidence that the laws need to be changed, rather than that there needs to be more effective enforcement.
Now we have this comment in the Oxford Times about the “bus gate” (ban on private vehicles) in one part of High Street. It should be prefaced by saying this is hardly an arbitrary restriction. Because of river geography and the huge space taken up by colleges, Oxford is inevitably a challenge for transport. High Street is sufficiently congested at most times of the day, with just buses, taxis and bicycles, as well as the vast numbers of tourists on foot, as to be difficult and dangerous to pass through.
A top businessman said Oxford’s bus gate in High Street should be reviewed after it emerged council bosses have raked in fines totalling more than £6m over 10 years.
The bus gate uses camera enforcement to restrict normal traffic from using the High Street between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
After the £6.2m fines total emerged following a Freedom of Information request by the Oxford Mail, Jeremy Mogford, owner of The Old Bank Hotel in High Street, called for the restriction to be reviewed.
Weirdly, he also seems to believe that it’s a problem that many of the scofflaws paying the fines are tourists. Given that Oxford has to pay a huge burden for maintaining transport infrastructure for millions of annual visitors who don’t pay local taxes, what could be more appropriate than that those who abuse the system and endanger our lives to get an advantage would pay the costs.
Two other points that Mr Mogford makes:
“I do think the bus gate should be better signposted in High Street because some drivers are clearly missing the signs or ignoring them.
“It’s quite likely some delivery drivers will go through the bus gate and pay the fine instead of spending half an hour going all the way round.
I agree with the first point, though the current signs don’t seem obviously deficient. As for the latter, I don’t really object. Fines can serve as a kind of stochastic congestion charge, allowing those with an urgent need to use a certain resource to pay the cost. I think that a formal congestion charge is better, though, since it is less ambiguous, more predictable, and removes the taint of illegality.