Enforcement costs soar as Welsh 20mph limits accelerate

Rhodri Clark

Concerns have begun to emerge over the costs and practicalities of ensuring compliance with a sudden proliferation of 20mph limits in Wales.

In July, the Welsh Parliament voted in favour of 20mph becoming the default urban speed limit. The aim is to pass a statutory instrument in October 2021, coming into effect in April 2023.

Research for the Department for Transport in 2018 showed that, in general, there was only a small reduction in traffic speeds in 20mph streets because drivers knew they were unlikely to be caught speeding there. Most participants in surveys and focus groups for the research felt that stronger enforcement was needed for 20mph limits to be effective.

A recent 20mph expert report for the Welsh Government acknowledged that because most built-up roads will become 20mph roads by default ‘it will not be possible to re-engineer all of them to make them self-enforcing’.

Its proposed hierarchy of enforcement options has average speed cameras (ASCs) at the top, followed by mobile cameras operated by the GoSafe partnership, then ‘community speedwatch’ and finally police enforcement.

Rossett, a village in Wrexham county borough

However, some local government officers doubt that ASCs can be successfully used within urban areas. GoSafe disagrees. A spokesman told Highways that ASCs had developed significantly over recent years, with many now designed specifically for urban environments.

‘ASCs are the most effective type of speed enforcement solution, in that they achieve high levels of compliance and are live 24 hours a day so affect traffic speeds on a permanent basis.’

Highways asked whether a large increase in ASCs would require additional funding for GoSafe, or be self-financing through penalties or payments for speed awareness courses? The spokesman replied: ‘This would be part of a larger assessment on predicted demand or any changes in criteria [for GoSafe enforcement] and will be agreed with Welsh Government and the GoSafe strategic board.

‘Penalty Charge Notices [revenues] are returned to Her Majesty’s Treasury – we cannot reclaim any funding from them.’

GoSafe believes that it will be for highway authorities to decide the extent to which ASCs will be used, but the spokesman added: ‘We will of course work with them to identify the best technological solution and assist in implementing any solution.’

He also emphasised: ‘Enforcement is always the last option. Engineering and education must be considered first.’

Local authorities may see the picture differently, however. A proliferation of speed humps on newly-designated 20mph roads could be unpopular with some voters and with bus passengers in particular – for whom the bumpy ride can be uncomfortable and sometimes cause or exacerbate pain.

Bus operators say humps incur higher maintenance costs for vehicles’ suspension systems.

A bus on a typical local route will cross the same humps many times every day.

Bev Fowles, managing director of South Wales Transport, has calculated that the driver on one of his bus routes currently crosses speed humps 260 times each day, before any additional traffic calming when 20mph becomes the default limit. ‘There must be implications for that driver’s long-term health,’ he said.

The cost of physical works to make new 20mph limits self-enforcing is another concern after COVID-19 placed unexpected demands on council budgets, which are still reeling from the reductions of the austerity period.

A spokesman for CSS Wales told Highways: ‘It is envisaged that a suite of measures to include engineering, education and enforcement measures will be required, and as local authority budgets are already stretched, the majority of Welsh local authorities do not believe that they will have sufficient funds to introduce the identified hard engineering solutions or to resource the onerous engagement/education requirement for the 20mph zones unless additional funding is provided by Welsh Government.’

All Welsh local authorities have the option of enforcing against Moving Traffic Offences (MTOs) such as misuse of bus lanes and yellow box junctions. The current powers do not extend to speed enforcement but that could be a natural extension, to enable future urban ASCs to be deployed and managed by councils’ MTO teams.

So far, Cardiff Council is the only authority using the powers fully. A spokesman said it had no intention to apply for powers to extend the scheme to cover 20mph enforcement.

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