In May the government announced a package to try and increase the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand as a way of reducing emissions – a laudable goal but some of the government’s proposed some measures missed the mark. At or at least near the top of the list was the idea to allow for electric cars to use bus lanes and the Northern Busway.

Northern Busway

Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes

Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.

At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.

The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.

As I said at the time, the idea is madness and defeats the whole purpose of having bus lanes which is to make buses:

  • faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
  • more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
  • more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
  • more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.

It’s now been revealed by the Herald that the government ignored advice to at least consult with councils first before announcing the idea and highlighting that at least one council is ruling it out.

Andy Foster of the Wellington City Council said his city had the country’s highest rate of public transport use “by far” and did not foresee it opting for the change.

“Traffic getting in the buses’ way is not conducive to maintaining reliable timetables.”

Foster, who chairs the council’s transport and urban development committee, said he saw “no chance” that electric vehicles would be allowed to use the city’s bus-only lanes.

“Bus lanes are generally very well respected by motorists. If some vehicles start using bus lanes because they are [electric] there is a greater risk that others which are not [electric] will do so too.”

They also say Auckland Transport and the Christchurch City Council seem cool on the idea although the NZTA say they have begun initial discussions with Auckland Transport to investigate the potential of permitting electric vehicles on the Northern Busway

Back when this policy was announced I sent an Official Information Act request to the Ministry asking for details relating to the idea. I received back some excepts from a report looking at options for promoting EVs but it had been sitting in my inbox for a while. It includes the suggestion that the Minister consult councils on the idea first as well as a few other interesting comments. For example, not only did they recommend talking to road controlling authorities (RCAs) first, they say the NZTA expects none of the major RCAs would implement it.

EVs in Bus Lanes OIA - Considerations

I find the point that the NZTA highlighted that such and idea was unlikely to work as the RCAs wouldn’t want to implement it as much more damning than the fact he didn’t consult with them

They expand a bit on the efficiency impact portion below highlighting that it will likely impact PT and general traffic congestion. Even more so bottom paragraph below confirms the bus lanes will be full soon but that people will still want to drive in them.

EVs in Bus Lanes OIA - 1

As a way of implementing the idea, it was suggested to either use legislation to declare EVs as allowed in all bus or transit lanes or give RCA’s the power to decide on what lanes to allow EVs to use. Thankfully the Minister at least chose the second option but given the responses above, it seems unlikely to they’ll approve having EVs in bus lanes. That raises the prospect despite the government suggesting it, it won’t actually be possible anywhere. That in turns means the whole point of the policy would be a flop and will have wasted precious resource from the ministry. I wonder if the government will quietly drop it.

Of course if they really want to get more use out of bus lanes one idea would be to provide more funding to put more buses on which would have the added benefit of making PT much more useful.

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  1. I can see how an idea like that might pop into someones head, say in a policy brainstorming meeting. But it’s truly mind-boggling to try and imagine that getting any further than it’s initial verbalisation. I’m a supporter of this government (for the most part.. no government is perfect), but these kind of kooky ideas making their way into public domain did a fair bit to contribute to the downfall of the Clark government.

      1. Yes, just goes to show what a waste of time the legislation would have been, as they end up finding their way into regular circulation anyway. I would expect the same with EVs, no amount of tinkering either way will change the reality that they will become common here about 5 – 10 years later than in Japan.

    1. Exactly right. I voted Labour each election right up until they thought they could tell me how to wash. Mess with my shower and you have no right to govern.

  2. I don’t see AT coming to the party with their bus lanes, but NZTA could still push forward with stuff it controls, right? Like the Busway, horrible thought. Or can AT prevent access somehow?

    1. I don’t think NZTA own or control the stations though, the council could potentially restrict access to the station roads and approaches making it impossible to access the busway.

  3. ‘Of course if they really want to get more use out of bus lanes one idea would be to provide more funding to put more buses on which would have the added benefit of making PT much more useful.’

    …and improve carbon emissions even faster than getting one or two people to buy an EV a bit earlier.

    As sincere as the Minister’s desire for more EVs on our roads is, it would be better if he and the rest of his government actually focussed on reducing carbon emissions directly, especially with the transport budget.

    This is a massive distraction, and would be so counterproductive, there are far too many cars clogging bus lanes as int is, particularly at intersections, this would just license every driver to fudge their use, ruining the efficacy and efficiency of the bus system.

    1. All you need to know about the government’s thoughts on EVs is right here:

      “The Government is committed to supporting the uptake of [EVs]… because electric vehicles have the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the transition to a low-carbon economy, without compromising individual mobility or economic growth”.

      They don’t support public transport because apparently this affects “individual mobility”. They aren’t taking any action on wider climate change issues because it might affect “economic growth”. It’s incredibly short sighted.

  4. If they want to increase the number of EVs then simply stop charging GST on them when they are imported.

  5. Although as you say the idea of allowing electric cars in the bus priority lanes is laughably silly, just in case the relevant authorities felt pressured by the government I put forward a Notice of Motion through our Local Board urging Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency “to protect the integrity of existing and future Bus Lanes by resisting efforts to allow their use by electric cars”. That was on June 1st and so far we have had no response (though informally we have been told that the Minister’s idea is of no interest to them). Meantime, several other Boards have passed the same or similar resolutions. Hopefully the issue is a dead duck though we should not totally relax. I note that the Taxi Federation has tried repeatedly over the last 15 years to get their vehicles into the bus lanes (on the basis that Taxis=public transport!). I recall being personally lobbied as a City Councillor by a 3 man delegation, but when their official deputation came to Council with a formal request a clear majority of us voted to reject their proposal. The same should happen with this latest misguided initiative.

    1. Although for some reason Taxis (with or without passengers) are allowed in Transit lanes. Does AT have any plans to improve the consistency of application of Transit and bus lanes?

    1. Wellington – the only city currently with electric (trolley) buses – is soon to get rid of them.
      They are to be replaced by un-tried diesel hybrids, which duplicitous regional councillors are trying to pass off to the public as genuine “electric vehicles”.

      The incompetence and deviousness of certain politicians knows no bounds.

      Keep a watch on Wellington to see how the “electric bus” charade unfolds !

      1. Yes, I think it is going to be very interesting how these play out. In saying that I’m not sure whether the trolley buses are really going to be missed by their users. They appear to be quite a bit slower than diesels as they have to slow down for all sorts of junctions in the wires. Also they undermine their quietness on Lambton Quay with frequent unexpected air releases from the breaks.

        1. Yes, the trolleybuses do make some noise (compressor, fans, brakes, transmission etc), but nothing like the continual droning of diesels (which also have noisy compressors, fans, brakes, etc).

          However their real advantage is in not belching noxious fumes right in the pedestrian breathing zone and adding to atmospheric carbon as diesels do. Their replacement with hybrids will be a big step backwards in this respect. Especially if they fail to perform as the salesman promised and end up with regular flat batteries crawling slower than the trolleys!

          If it wasn’t something as important as the city’s future public transport at stake and the loss of valuable electrification infrastructure, it could be quite fun to watch the debacle unfold.

      2. I really cannot get over removing quiet 100% emmission free buses in Wellington and replacing them with filthy diesel buses, in the knowledge of the goiwing problems caused by climate change! Its just astounding!

  6. Good article Matt – it’s reassuring to know that there will be some checks and balances in the implementation of this policy. Also interesting to see that NZTA thinks that Auckland’s bus lanes will be at capacity within 3 years. That seems very soon!

  7. The whole policy was silly from the get go. It would be one thing to allow EV into T2/3 lanes, another thing all together to allow them into bus lanes.
    If they want to encourage the uptake of EV then they would be better off waiving fee’s like initial registration etc to reduce the ORC when purchasing the vehicle. As it stands there are already cost advantages in owning an EV and while we should be encouraging their uptake to replace ICE for environmental and to reduce oil imports reasons it isn’t something that should be a priority when the benefits of PT are much higher and EVs are coming down in price all the time so will naturally become attractive in the future.

    As Lisa above suggests, EV Buses could be a good area to target (get rid of those diesel fumes).

  8. Is this just a PR stunt by the Government, looks good, newsworthy etc but knowing full well it will never work.

    1. Reminds me of Labour’s stunt prior to the last election, promising to ban trucks from the fast lane of motorways! Political point-scoring at its blatantest, while achieving little of practical use.

  9. What if in the next decade everyone drives EV, the bus lane would just be as congested as the normal lane.

  10. Even if their policy worked they would then have to get rid of it. That will leave a bunch of disgruntled people, who bought EVs to use the bus lane, who are shut out but stuck with a lightweight short range car.

    1. Yes. Yet that still begs the question; how many people do you think would be convinced into an EV just because of access to bus lanes? Did they try to ‘model’ that anywhere? With their genius model.

  11. This was a great idea, sounds sexy wouldn’t work in principle but local authorities would block it and they would go well there decision.

    Ultimate Spin victory

  12. Norway decided in May to remove electric cars from its bus lanes – at the very time that Bridges made his stupid announcement. Although electric cars will eventually make a contribution to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions there are signs that this government will use this as an excuse for not making other more significant steps now. For example new Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett, when asked what the government was doing to reduce our emissions, replied brightly that electric cars are about to arrive and that she is closely following technological advances overseas. All vague talk of possible future actions but absolutely nothing now. Talk of electric cars in bus lanes is a distraction from a government more interested in appearing to be doing something than in actually doing anything real [which is at least better than only a year ago when climate change denial was the order of the day]. Tonight’s very interesting climate change talk was mainly devoted to ways of reducing our transport emissions, largely through changed behaviour rather than new technology.

  13. Problem with allowing EVs into bus lanes is that most of the EVs are based on petrol powered cars, and to a causal observer they are virtually impossible to tell apart. So when motorists see another vehicle similar to there’s whizzing along in a bus lane, they are going to try and follow suit. And judging by the way the current bus lanes are being policed, they would probably get away with it. Like the guy in a black BMW who barged his way into the transit lane at the Church Street on-ramp yesterday. There was a cop parked along the lane, who did nothing.

  14. “the idea is madness and defeats the whole purpose”

    Except the whole purpose of the busway was to move buses and cars. The business case envisioned up to 250 buses and 350 cars (with 3+ occupants) per hour. The busway has therefore yet to be used for its intended purpose. Not that that’s a bad thing, but just saying, it’s not quite right to refer to calls for it to be used as intended as “madness”. Without those 350 cars per hour being included in the business case, it would not have been built.

    1. It was never actually intended to support cars. That was tacked on to secure NZTA funding, it was marketing to side step the people that couldn’t comprehend buses working so well.

  15. I am confused. Can I drive my electric vehicle down the Onewa bus lane at peak times? Has whoever has the final word made a decision?

  16. Confused too, will this be pure EV only or vehicles such as the PHEV outlander that can run in EV mode only. As soon as the decision to allow use in T2 or T3 I’m buying one.

  17. The MoT is asking for submissions on the use of bus etc lanes by EVs – see Closing dates for submissions are 1 February for the Energy Innovation Bill, and 1 March for changes to the Road User Rule.

    And from 6 to 20 March (only) EVs will be allowed to use the following T2/Truck lanes – see

    T2 and Truck lane adjacent to the onramp northbound from McKenzie Road to South Western Motorway (Mangere/Manukau)
    T2 Lane adjacent to the onramp northbound from Rimu Road to South Western Motorway (Mangere)
    T2 and Truck lane adjacent to the onramp northbound from SEART to South Eastern Highway (Mt Wellington, Sylvia Park)
    T2 and Truck lane adjacent to the onramp northbound from Mt Wellington interchange to Southern Motorway
    T2 and Truck lane adjacent to the onramp eastbound from Lincoln Road, to SH16 North Western Motorway (Henderson)
    Truck lane adjacent to the onramp southbound from Grafton Road Onramp to North Western Motorway (Auckland Central)

    (Apologies for double post – in the correct thread now, I hope)

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