When the Government announced the successful Go Ultra Low Cities last week there was one element that really caught the eye of the national media as an electric vehicle incentive. The policy of allowing electric vehicles to use bus lanes to avoid congestion is to be introduced into a number of UK towns and cities to encourage EV uptake.

The reactions from the public however were mixed. As an EV driver myself, I personally would love to beat the rush hour traffic every day by smugly driving past the congested traffic which takes me through Newcastle and onto Sunderland. Would it encourage me to buy an electric vehicle though if I didn’t already drive one?

I still strongly believe that incentives are needed to get people out of their combustion engine cars and into something new.  When the Nissan LEAF was first introduced onto the market, we spoke to many drivers who had converted in the main thanks to the free parking and free charging that they would receive as part of what was then North East policy. People need those incentives and helping people reduce their commute times would certainly be one to many time-poor drivers. It’s natural therefore that many towns and cities want to give this a try.

Norway were one of the first countries to introduce legislation to allow EV travel in bus lanes and has declared it as one of a number of reasons why the country has the highest level of EV ownership. It is certainly part of the overall ‘package’ which makes people stop and think about making that switch (although the tax breaks there are surely the main motivator). But all is not well on Norwegian bus lanes nowadays. The huge numbers of electric vehicles on the road has now led to major congestion in those bus lanes and the Norwegian Government has overturned that legislation. So great while it lasted but maybe not a long-lasting solution.

With that in mind I can completely understand the reluctance from public bodies to introduce such an incentive.

Only this week in Newcastle, the issue of bus lanes has hit the local news for reasons other than electric vehicles. Newcastle City Council released latest figures of over 30,000 people who had been caught out in bus lanes by cameras in the last six months. The Council has been making steps to keep traffic out of those lanes to give priority to public transport and encourage more people back onto our buses. To suddenly change their bus routes (which I emphasise they are not planning to do) to allow electric vehicles would, I think, give out completely the wrong message and would create additional complexities around enforcement.

Looking at it from a pro-public transport point of view (as a bus driver or a passenger), allowing EVs into the bus routes can create additional transport, slowing up buses and having a detrimental effect on public transport altogether. So by incentivising EVs in this way, we are reducing CO2  emissions but are we adding to the congestion along major routes into Cities?

It’s not a clear cut issue and I asked some of the team what their views were:

Lisa Lewins, Office Manager: 

“From a personal point of view, having regular access to an EV I think it would be a great pro at the moment when there are less EVs on the road.  On the con side, I do resent seeing taxis in the bus lanes so where do you draw the line?  I’m really not sure it will increase ownership, I think the purchasing decision is mainly based on cost and people’s green credentials rather than if they would be allowed to use a bus lane or not.” 

Josey Wardle, Infrastructure Manager:

It would certainly speed up my travel through Durham every morning!  There are currently bus lanes that taxis and motorbikes can also use, but not EVs.  When the bus lanes were introduced they took away 1 of the 2 existing lanes – which caused real congestion into the City, snarling everything up in the remaining lane and the queue stretches back to the motorway every day now. Maybe allowing EVs into the bus lanes would ease that congestion slightly.

There are definitely two sides to every story – and we’d love to know what your views on the subject are.

Zero Carbon Futures is an electric vehicle consultancy which manages and delivers projects which help towns and cities increase EV uptake.

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