Round up of a whole year of drivers incorrectly fined in Bristol’s Clean Air Zone

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A couple in Sussex have been repeatedly fined despite never visiting Bristol

Some drivers were incorrectly fined during the first year of Bristol’s Clean Air Zone. The scheme, which launched on November 28 last year, has struggled to read number plates correctly, issuing fines to drivers who did not drive through the zone.

The Clean Air Zone aims to reduce the amount of harmful pollution emitted by vehicles in the centre of Bristol. But the scheme has faced a number of challenges since it was first launched, and even before then too.

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These challenges include the automatic number plate recognition system, which cannot always correctly recognise number plates, as well as creating other issues with unintended consequences like increasing traffic elsewhere. Here’s a look back at some of these cases.

A woman was fined after her van was driven through the Clean Air Zone - but on the back of a breakdown recovery vehicle. Mechanics at the garage where her van was headed said this was “quite common”. Bristol City Council later cancelled the penalty charge notice they sent her.

A couple in Sussex have been repeatedly fined despite never driving through the Clean Air Zone, or even visiting Bristol. Another driver in Bristol, whose car isn’t compliant, has a similar number plate to the couple’s car — and the council’s camera system fails to tell the difference between the letter G and the letter C. The council has withdrawn their fines.

A couple in Cornwall were also repeatedly fined for a similar problem. The council’s cameras use an automated number plate recognition system, which struggles to tell the difference between similar number plates. The cameras should be able to read numbers and letters, but clearly make mistakes too often. This time the difference was between letters S and J.

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The system checks number plates against a list of which cars are compliant and which aren’t, and automatically sends out a fine if it thinks a non-compliant car has been spotted. Every time a driver is mistakenly fined by the council, the process of appealing takes up a huge amount of time and causes a huge amount of stress.

Even before the scheme launched, drivers across Britain were sent warning letters even though they were nowhere near Bristol. This included motorists in west Wales and Merseyside, due to the same problem of the cameras struggling to read number plates.

Drivers have also questioned what benefit the Clean Air Zone brings, if it means them taking a detour and their journey becoming longer. One example is a normally short journey from Totterdown to St Werburgh's — where a driver of a non-compliant car would need to travel through Knowle and Brislington to avoid a fee, polluting the air there instead of in the city centre.

Rat runs are another issue, with drivers of non-compliant vehicles finding new routes to avoid paying the charge. Windmill Hill residents said their narrow residential streets have seen much more traffic than before the charge.

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Fines can be appealed online or through the post. Drivers have 28 days from the date of the fine to lodge an appeal. If more than one penalty charge notice was received, each one has to be appealed separately. More information is available on the council’s website, including how to check if a vehicle is liable to pay to enter the zone.

Data on whether the CAZ has been successful in improving air quality levels could be published imminently.  Earlier this year, a council spokesman said all the details would be published in a cabinet report in December.

The next cabinet meeting is on Tuesday, December 5, meaning the long-awaited report on the effects of the Clean Air Zone could be published a few days prior.

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