It was a typically cloudy day in Carmarthenshire and on my return from interviewing someone in Llanelli I noticed a McDonald’s up ahead and thought I'd treat myself to a coffee for the drive home. I didn’t know it yet but it would turn out to be the most expensive coffee I have ever bought.

It was lunchtime on November 29 last year and I was driving along the B4304 (Trostre Road) heading north away from the Machynys area when I approached Trostre Roundabout, with a big yellow McDonald’s sign to my right, brightening up the gloom and enticing drivers to pull off and use its convenient drive-thru facility. As I said, it was cloudy, it was dreary, and I don’t know Llanelli and its roads that well, so I drove around the roundabout and took my exit immediately next to that big yellow McDonald’s sign. I drove straight down the road and then took another left into the drive-thru. Nice coffee, job done, home. You can keep up to date with the latest Carmarthenshire news by signing up to the local newsletter here.

A week later, on December 6, I received a notice from Carmarthenshire Council complete with a fine, for I had inadvertently driven straight down a bus lane. I thought there must be some mistake, as I would surely have noticed had this been the case. But no, I had done so, and they even sent me a pretty picture of my car in said lane as I committed the offence. It was a fine for £70, but reduced to £35 if it was paid within 21 days (they’re very generous like that, Carmarthenshire Council). I want to be absolutely clear at this point that I did not challenge this penalty charge notice. I had no grounds to. I had driven in a bus lane. Whether I had intended to or not was irrelevant. I was in the wrong and I was fined. But I was still angry.

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On approach to the roundabout there are direction signs which include a small blue circle with a nice picture of a bus on it with the words ‘Yn unig/only’ next to it. The same small blue circle is on the entrance to the exit itself, and there is faded text on the floor of the road which says ‘buses only’ - a quick look back on Google Maps reveals the text has become more and more faded over time.

As I said, I had no grounds to challenge this ticket. But, the exit is directly next to a McDonald’s sign, and there is speed limit signage at the entrance to the bus lane, which is also flanked by large signs advertising Parc Trostre. An issue for me was the fact that it looks like the entrance into the McDonald's restaurant, because it is situated right next to it. In fact, to access the McDonald's (legally!) you have to take another exit (going away from the restaurant) and drive through two smaller roundabouts and then turn off into Parc Trostre Retail Park on the third roundabout to head back towards the restaurant. That's a lot of work for a coffee. Want less ads? Download WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android.

Wondering if it was only me that had been silly enough to be caught out by this, I posted about my roundabout woes on social media. There were hundreds of replies, some of which helpfully pointed out that it’s a bus lane, there is signage, and for me to basically get over it. But countless others were more sympathetic, and somewhat happy that someone else had been caught out in the same way.

“My husband got caught too, he is not from Wales but a driver all his life. The sign is not clear enough, it should be a no entry one with a sign below saying access only for buses and taxis,” said one responder. “I got caught in the bus lane last moth - I have never been to Parc Trostre before so didn’t know the entry in, I won’t be going there again”, said another. One motorist wrote: “Yes, there is a lot of signage.....but the main sign I see is for Parc Trostre, then oops you’ve driven up there.”

Someone else called it a “cash trap” for the council, while another said: “I hadn’t seen the signage then looked the next time and it was obvious - but I think in the moment I was looking for the McDonald's entrance so I didn’t register the signs. It’s also harder to see in the dark and I think it would be dangerous to abort your decision once you’d seen the signs. £70 is brutal.”

Another motorist agreed, writing: “This happened to me! Couldn’t believe it! It’s easy to see the signage once you realise, but there are so many signs around there. If you’re not familiar with the area and are also trying to work out where you’re going, it’s easy to just turn too soon and it’s then too late to do anything as you can’t suddenly stop or reverse onto the roundabout. I rang the council and a very nice lady said - ‘oh my goodness, so many people do this all the time’.”

Roundabout exit near a mcdonald's
The approach to the exit. There is signage, and faded text on the floor, but many have said by the time they see it they're already turning off

In correspondence sent to WalesOnline complaining of being fined on the same roundabout, one woman wrote: “The bus lane doesn’t start until after you have left the roundabout and you are then effectively unable to do anything other than drive through it, as to reverse back on to the roundabout to avoid it would be dangerous. Although I have paid the reduced fine of £35 as I do not want to risk further costs and aggravation, I feel very much that this ticket is unfair as it was not clear enough and it feels like a bit of a trap that is there to make money - a modern day highway robbery.”

As one person alluded to, perhaps a red ‘no entry’ sign would work better in alerting drivers that this lane is not to be used by cars, with text underneath saying ‘except buses/taxis’. It would then put the emphasis more on bus and taxi drivers, of which there are far fewer that use the roundabout compared to car drivers. Interestingly, at the other end of the bus lane, as you exit McDonald’s, there are two red ‘no entry signs’, and text on the floor which reads ‘no entry’. There is nothing about it being a bus lane, but it makes it clear to the driver that it’s a one-way road and that you cannot drive down that lane. I doubt anyone gets caught driving through from that direction....

Bus lane entrance
The bottom end of the bus lane with its red 'no entry' signs

One of the comments left on social media read: “I use this roundabout almost daily and have witnessed countless drivers making the same mistake. I’d be intrigued to see the yearly count on just how many made that mistake - it’s a farce!”

Well, I too was intrigued, and thanks to a lovely thing called the Freedom of Information Act I set about asking just how much money the council has made in fines from people committing exactly the same mistake as I did last November. The answer is simply staggering. In just one year, drivers have paid more than half a million pounds in fines. To put that into some context, that’s a considerably higher amount of fines collected from one junction on one roundabout than was collected for all parking offences across the entire county over a 12-month period. Between April, 2022, and April, 2023, Carmarthenshire Council collected more than £350,000 in parking fines across the county. You can read more about that here.

In comparison, between December, 2022, and November, 2023, £509,525 was paid in fines to Carmarthenshire Council from drivers who used the bus lane off Trostre Roundabout. If you stretch it back slightly to August, 2022, the information gathered reveals that 15,112 drivers were caught driving down the bus lane between then and December, 2023. Maybe there is an issue with signage after all!

As conceded above, I did not contest my fine as I was in the wrong. It’s a bus lane and it’s signposted. I also concede that I did not read the sign as I approached the roundabout (realistically, I know which way it is back to Carmarthen, so why would I?). My main issue was that if you’re not familiar with the area, and specifically the roundabout, there’s a big risk that you’ll take an expensive wrong turn (just ask the other 15,000 drivers). So surely, or maybe, the council could take a sensible approach and write-off first-time offenders who have clearly made an innocent mistake? After all, if you park on a double yellow line, even for two minutes, you’re rolling the dice on getting caught because you know you’re in the wrong. At Trostre Roundabout, I had no idea I was in the wrong, not until a week later, and I assume the thousands of other drivers caught out didn’t either.

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I put some questions to the council, referencing the huge number of drivers penalised at Trostre Roundabout and the huge amount of money collected from them. In response, Councillor Edward Thomas said: “All of our traffic signs are compliant with the relevant regulations. The bus lane is accessed from Trostre Roundabout, and we have ensured that all approach roads to the roundabout include advance signs warning approaching drivers that one of the accesses off the roundabout is restricted. On the roundabout itself, the presence of the bus lane is then clearly shown with appropriate signs which are reinforced with additional carriageway markings on a red surface.”

Councillor Thomas continued: “If a motorist feels they have been unfairly issued with a penalty charge notice they are able to appeal to the parking appeal service which is an independent body. Bus lanes help to ensure smoother traffic flows by giving buses priority over other vehicles. This is especially important in congested urban areas like Llanelli where traffic congestion is a significant issue. Overall, the enforcement of bus lanes plays a vital role in efficient, reliable, and sustainable public transport, which are essential for the well-being of Carmarthenshire residents.”

So there we have it. The traffic signs are “compliant with the relevant regulations” and “bus lanes help to ensure smoother traffic flows”. The signs may be compliant, but are they clear enough? And nobody I’ve spoken to is questioning the necessity of bus lanes, but many have questioned how they came to be driving down one in particular in Trostre. Like I've said, I was in the wrong and paid my fine without challenge, and have learned an expensive lesson: I will never again be fined for driving down the bus lane off Trostre Roundabout, but I can guarantee that others, unaware of the bus lane and unfamiliar with the roundabout, will be.

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