A number of English cities are to allow motorists in expensive electric cars to use bus lanes. The controversial and inequitable move was announced earlier today as part of a £40m subsidy package for wealthy motorists from the Department for Transport. Electric cars may be cleaner for cities but they tend to be the same size as normal cars so the uptake of such vehicles does zilch to alleviate congestion. Letting motorists drive in lanes that are meant to be for buses will also likely lead to confusion and anger as motorists not in electric cars witness car-shaped vehicles darting along bus lanes.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced Nottingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London as winners of a Go Ultra Low City Scheme, after the cities proposed a number of initiatives to support "greener" vehicles. Go Ultra Low is a jointly funded partnership between the car industry and the UK government. Members include Audi, BMW, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, an agency of the Department for Transport, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
In a video embedded on the DfT press release about today’s announement Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, said the “free use” of bus lanes by electric cars was “innovative”. Bus passengers will probably take a very different view of today’s news.
The Department for Transport said "local privileges such as access to bus lanes in city centres" would be granted to motorists to the winning cities.
Milton Keynes will also allow free parking for electric cars in all of the city’s 20,000 parking bays.
The DfT press release mentions Nottingham, Milton Keynes and Derby as the cities which will allow motorists to drive electric cars in bus lanes.
In London only buses, cyclists and black cabs are allowed to use bus lanes.
"Free parking [and] permission to drive in bus lanes … are sure to appeal to drivers and inspire other cities and local authorities to invest in the electric revolution," said Welch.
The Go Ultra Low Cities fund is part of a £600m package of measures from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles which includes "plug-in car grants" so motorists who can afford to buy £30,000 cars are gifted with £5000 "rebates".
In Norway electric cars have been allowed in bus lanes for some years, leading to increased congestion on city roads. There has also been conflict between different road users.
In 2014 a bus driver told the AFP press agency: "I want to transport my passengers as quickly as possible. Delays have a cost for society. Time lost by thousands of our passengers in traffic is far greater than that gained by a few dozen electric car drivers."
The bus driver added that allowing electric cars in bus lanes can create a vicious circle – tired of being stuck in traffic, some bus users could be tempted to buy electric cars themselves, leading to more cars on the road and hence more congestion.
According to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, electric cars represent nearly 90 percent of motorised traffic in the bus lanes during rush hours.
In November London Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith caused a stir when he told LBC radio that London’s bus lanes wouldn’t be needed within the very near future.
He told shock jock Nick Ferrari: “I think that if I’m right, and I am absolutely convinced I am, that we are going to see a massive shift in the type of cars that people own, then in two or three years there will be no point having bus lanes because everyone will be driving [electric cars].”
Responding to this BikeBiz story on Twitter @crankyacid said that "[The Government is] trying to add value to the electric car market in a way they are not willing to do for cycling."