Last week the National Party announced a repeat of a failed policy they tried last time they were in government, allowing electric vehicles to use bus lanes. As with last time, they say it’s all about encouraging people and businesses to buy EVs.

Transport is one of our largest and fastest growing sources of emissions. Getting many more vehicles to be electric will be one of the important steps needed to help address combat this – alongside other big moves such as getting more people using public transport, active modes or reducing their travel altogether. Of course those non-EV steps also have other benefits for congestion, health and road safety benefits.

Converting the fleet to electric is no easy task though. The most recent figures suggest we have about 4.4 million vehicles registered in New Zealand of which about 3.4 million are cars. Yet of that 4.4 million, only around 22,000 are currently fully electric or a plug in hybrid – so all up about half a percent.

National want to roughly quadruple that figure to 80,000 and to do it they’re proposing to:

  • Exempt EVs from fringe benefit tax until 2025 to encourage fleet uptake.
  • Extend the Road User Charge exemptions until at least 2023.
  • Allow EVs to use bus lanes and high occupancy vehicle lanes to incentivise consumers by shortening commute times and increasing driver benefits.
  • Introduce an EV licence plate for ease of identification.
  • Target a government fleet that is one-third EV by 2023.

Firstly, how about we exempt fringe benefit tax from public transport passes – it’s something we’ve talked about before and would allow for things such as workplaces providing PT passes. National think exempting FBT from EVs would cost about $55 million in lost revenue, that’s probably about $55 million more than the government would collect in FBT of public transport right now.

But it’s the bus lanes part that gets the most headlines and as mentioned earlier, National tried this last time they were in office. Then Transport Minister Simon Bridges introduced the change in 2016, ignoring advice from officials saying it wouldn’t work.

That advice also highlighted that local authorities would likely not support it, which is exactly what happened and in 2017 Auckland Transport would only support trialling them in T2/T3 lanes for one year and only if the government provided them with funding to do so. They also said that they were only really doing that to show they were supporting the minister and his policy.

The reasons for opposing it then are the same as now, allowing EVs in bus lanes will slow down the buses and make them less attractive to use. That’s because there’s a greater chance that buses will be held up or miss lights etc. It means a double decker carrying 100 people have the same level of priority as a single person in an electric car. And this isn’t just theoretical, back in 2010 the old Auckland City Council trialled changing the then Tamaki Dr bus lanes to T2. As the results of that showed, it actually had the effect of slowing other road users, especially the general traffic. One of the reasons for this is the T2/3 drivers would push back in to the general traffic queue to get around buses at bus stops.

When it was trialled last time, a survey conducted by Waka Kotahi NZTA found:

“Through this survey, EV owners said that, while being able to use the priority lanes was one of many benefits of having an EV, the use of priority lanes wasn’t a significant factor in their decision to purchase an EV.

“That is, the ability to access priority lanes didn’t have any significant impact on peoples’ decision to buy an EV.”

There’s also the issue that many bus lanes are also often considered cycle lanes too. Allowing electric vehicles into those lanes could increase the risk for people on bikes.

Finally on this, there’s not that many places where this would even apply. They say they implement this immediately on State Highways and work with councils to implement this in cities. As pointed out Auckland Transport is likely to oppose the change. The Herald also reports:

Rapid transit networks, like Auckland’s Northern Busway, would not be included in the scheme – though Wellington’s Mt Victoria bus tunnel would be considered.

In Auckland that would leave just a few motorway onramps (like was trialled last time) and the bus lanes on the Northwestern Motorway, but as National are promising to build a Northwest Busway too, perhaps that rules them out as well.

In short, allowing EVs to use bus lanes is one of those policies where no matter the outcome, you fail. It either works at encouraging uptake at the expense of slower and less useful buses, or it has no (or very little) impact on EV sales raising the question of why bother.

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  1. Yeah it’s a bit of a joke really. Sweeping assumption but your demographic that will be buying electric in the next few years are probably the demographic that understand the importance of bus lanes. So not really sure what their target audience of this one is..

    It’s just weird!

    1. I suspect their target market is probably Mum and dad national voters who won’t buy an ev but like the idea that the government is doing something for their kids’ future. It’s about branding more than substance.

  2. It’s similar to taxis using Grafton Bridge. I seem to remember they did a trial, is it still allowed?
    The real reason that EVs aren’t taking off is because they are more expensive. The main reason they are more expensive is because ICE vehicles don’t have to pay to destroy our environment; they are being subsidised. A true right wing party backed by sound economic principles would remove that subsidy by imposing an environment tax. Everything else is just unnecessary regulation of a market that could be a free market with the correct pricing applied; a decent right wing party would realise this.

    1. “It’s similar to taxis using Grafton Bridge. I seem to remember they did a trial, is it still allowed?”

      Pretty sure it stopped as many abused the speed limit on it.

      1. The Grafton Bridge Taxi trial had a hard limit on the number of times taxis would be allowed breach a condition of the trial and overtake cycles on the bridge. All the drivers were heavily warned about this. But they reached the limit in no time flat so the trial was pulled.

  3. Norway has tried various incentives over more than a decade to promote EV uptake, including allowing them in bus priority lanes. These incentives have been very successful, to the extent that Norway is a leader in converting from liquid fuel to electric propulsion. But the use of bus lanes has been to get in the way of public transport and has been phased out. As Mat points out, cars sharing bus lanes slows all other road users – PT users in the bus lane but also other car users in the ordinary road lanes as they have to slow or stop to make way for cars in the bus lanes forcing their way into the general traffic stream to overtake buses at bus stops. This idea must be fought off at every level.

    1. Yes and that is another issue with it; eventually you have to stop EVs using the bus lanes once they hit any kind of quantity, but some of those users will be angry as they paid extra for an EV for that reason. I am guessing that is why you used the term “phased out” – the government has put itself in a difficult position.

      1. Same goes for that FBT “exemption” (or actually, lack of enforcement of the FBT rules by the IRD) that incentivises businesses to buy all those double cab Utes in the first place.

        Which it seems National now kind of, plan to do something about – by getting the EVs down to the same level of crap policy as the Utes are.

        Sooner or later all these incentives have to end. For buslanes and both FBT and RUCs.

        Why not start there? Remove all the perverse incentives and economic distortions, then look to see what else is needed to bring about permanent change, introducing temporary incentives with clear sunset clauses if needed, for a time.

      1. But they aren’t all good points, Norway still allows EV’s in bus lanes, why remove my post when I’m correct but allow his post to remain which is not correct?

        The National Party has taken the Norwegian Govt’s EV policy and are applying it in NZ, I can’t understand why Labour haven’t also used it as well.

  4. On the other hand, the EV licence plate is a good idea. allowing easier development of local policies and practices specific to EV’s.

    1. Distinct plates for EVs will serve what purposes?

      Virtue signalling for the driver and also for the local councils [and National MPs], to maybe make them look like they’re doing something?

      Any EV down Queen St for instance is still as unwelcome as any other SOV, SUV or Double Cab Ute – no matter the number plate or how much or little FBT or RUCs they pay.

      Its a failed idea, being promoted to give a tiny fig leaf of greenwashing to Nationals MOAR ROADS policies. Nothing else.

      After all National is already planning on throwing down $40+ Billion on even more RoNS.

      Which serves littel except to give the trucking lobby even more reason to complain the NZ Inc needs to spend even more money than that amount, right NOW as all the existing roads are falling to rack and ruin.

      1. EV plates will become a necessity. Auckland city centre will become a Zero Emissions Area within the next decade, likely other places as well. Having different plates will make it far easier to police.
        Similarly any temporary measures that might be introduced to increase the attractiveness of buying an EV: car parks, transit lanes, queue for the Cook Strait ferry, etc.

        1. Auckland City Centre will be well served if it becomes motor vehicle free in a decade.

          Regardless of emissions profile of individual vehicles or the NZ fleet as whole that may drive there. That is the best outcome.

          However, evidence so far suggests that no change is likely to occur due to the simple fact that if it any such change was considered important, why we’d be doing it already. But we’re not.

          As for those other activities you cite, they are poor reasons to implement such measures because they are a very limited resource, easily consumed in short order, so offer little long term incentives. So they amount to mere table scraps in the wider scheme.

          But they do allow National Politicians to pretend “they care”.

        2. They’re also needed for emergency services dealing with crashed vehicles, i.e. the electrical hazard, and fires.

        3. Thats concern trolling.

          Your average EV – even that second hand Japanese imported Nissan Leaf is way, way safer – even after its crashed – than any fossil fuelled vehicle that is involved in a similar type of accident or fire will be.

          True EV batteries do represent a different type of hazard in a major accident or fire due to the nature of the “self-oxidising nature” of lithium batteries.

          Fire services are more likely to be involved dealing with the hazards of the lithium battery in your iPhone (or Samsung) or your laptops battery than an EV battery fire.

          The emergency services also don’t rely on a special number plate to tell them any vehicle is powered by LPG or carrying dangerous goods – the commonest issues they face. They have other ways of telling this.

          I think you’ll find they treat each vehicle fire or accident as if its a fossil fuelled vehicle from the get go – because a fossil fuelled fire (or fossil fuel cargo that has caught fire, or is in danger of doing so) is the single most riskiest/dangerous scenario they will ever face.

        4. I agree with most of what you are saying Greg N but I’d personally rather have a bunch of EV vehicles driving around my walking/cycling environment than a bunch of ECI ones just for sound and breathing pollution reasons alone.

        5. No. That’s dinosaur thinking having special plates.

          I know NZ is backwards but surely you have heard of numberplate recognition cameras. All over Europe to enforce this sort of thing. Even in the local supermarket to ensure I’m only there 30 minutes.

          It must be about time Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch introduced low emission zones controlled by these cameras.

  5. The national party say they are better at business. Then why do they want to put more costs on businesses and the people working in them?
    Encouraging urban sprawl, increasing congestion, putting high time and financial costs on families living in distant suburbs with more greenfields developments, building high cost roads, cutting PT and bikeways, not supporting rail will not help our low productivity and help business.
    NZ needs to do all it can to reduce our transport costs.

  6. As another example of mixed up thinking the National Party candidate for the Otaki electorate is leading a campaign to keep Kapiti airport open. While not saying it directly, they want more subsidies to keep the uneconomic airport operating instead of potential flyers paying full costs. Ironically it was National who sold the airport (originally taken from Maori) to private developers. At the same time National is campaigning for better roads to Wellington airport (EVs could scoot through on the bus lanes) and better roads to the north so in theory Kapiti residents could get quicker to Palmerston North. Climate change doesnt feature in any of these discussions.

  7. “Wellington’s Mt Victoria bus tunnel would be considered”
    Pinnacle of National Party brilliance: Allowing (electric) cars into a busy single lane traffic light controlled bus tunnel.

      1. Yes, quite.

        I for one would NEVER drive my EV through that bus tunnel right behind a smokey pollution belching Wellington bus of any stripe. That is delivering its PM10 laden exhaust directly into my car as I trundle behind it…

        1. Do you avoid other similarly polluted locations with your EV? (Or are you just taking the opportunity to do some Wellington bashing?)
          Have you looked into the age of Auckland’s bus fleet?
          (Not a great amount of room for smugness there: NZ Bus operate similarly aged, similarly polluting, similarly clunky buses in Auckland. Has Auckland ordered their electric replacements yet?)

  8. A bit disingenuous Matt to show a photo of the Northern Busway when the Nat’s specifically said this would not be used to cater for EV’s.

    Personally I think the policy isn’t that smart as the busways will quickly become congested, unless the EV was full, ie 4 passengers and then why not let them use the Northern Busway as well.

    1. “and then why not let them use the Northern Busway as well.”

      Because it would reduce the capacity of the whole motorway corridor.

    2. Its actually *very* relevant for Matt to use that Photo. Although its one thats been used in other contexts. It is appropriate here too.

      Because it reminds everyone (yet again, as if its really needed) that just one of those buses visible on the busway could likely replace ALL those vehicles in the adjacent motorway lanes in one hit.
      If those motorway drivers were using the bus.

      Secondly, making just one of those Northern Busway buses, electric, would be able to achieve the same as having nearly all the cars in that photo be EVs.

      And lastly, imagine for a minute, if even half a dozen of those vehicles on the motorway were EVs and using the busway, how little difference would removing those 6 EVs from that motorway traffic to the busway actually have on the motorway congestion?

      For the motorway users not a lot. Yet, the impact of even just those 6 cars on the busway users? Quite a lot, in fact, way more than you might think.
      Because the 30+ bus users are being held up by those 6 EVs.

        1. No one said that all journeys can [or should] be taken by PT.

          However, many more journeys can be taken on PT than are taken now. Allowing EVs in bus lanes of any type will privilege a very few to the detriment of very many.

          I was also pointing out that in that photo, 1 double decker could eliminate in one fell swoop dozens of single occupant vehicles.
          Leaving room for the likes of that truck, and no doubt the tradies on the motorway to go about their business.

          And in any case, how does allowing EVs into bus lanes in any way shape or form address the issue that not every journey is PT suitable?

          Truth is. It doesn’t.

          If National was serious they’d prioritise getting EV buses and EV trucks on our roads because those vehicles will have the biggest bang for any EV buck the government wants to spend.

  9. You will all get the opportunity to vote against National in the election not long now let’s see what happens. Meanwhile we need more EV buses.

  10. This policy is nuts, but it’s important for the parties to include EV policies – progressive ones based on trying to electrify those fleets which do a lot of km per vehicle and which are important for vulnerable groups in society.

    Providers of mobility services for health and disability needs, for example, are often run by volunteers, and are running on a shoestring in any case.

    More isolated regional communities are often poorer and face higher fuel costs.

    Providing EV’s, or a significant subsidy towards EV’s to these providers and communities would set them up with much lower ongoing costs.


    Maybe we are deluding ourselves that the vast majority of our journeys will be using EVs in 10 years time. It is looking more likely that the increasing rate of deterioration of the world’s atmosphere will necessitate more dramatic change; that we adopt the transport systems of progressive cities like Prague, Vienna and Milan and the majority of our trips are by bike, bus, tram and train.

  12. EV plates would help with managing any low-emissions zone. Only other use would for infringements for ICE car parked in a charging bay.
    Blowing the dust of old, failed policies for election promises is hardly encouraging. Charging full steam ahead into the 20th century.

  13. Shows we need more discussion on the spatial inefficiency of SOV-based transport systems, rather than the emphasis on emissions etc.

    Otherwise you get these sneaky policies which are just designed to de-legitimise PT under a friendly veneer of environmentalism.

  14. While the use of EVs (and hydrogen fueled vehicles) in bus lanes probably does’t have too much merit, it is disappointing that Matt and the rest of GA have once again looked at National policy through their biased red lenses.
    Why not focus on the positives like the FBT and RUC exceptions – and not just snarky politician like remarks on why not some other policy. These exceptions will be drivers in getting more vehicles to be EVs etc than use of bus lanes. And more than the vapour-policy of the current govt.
    I note Judith said the use of bus lanes would just be trialed.

    1. “Why not focus on the positives like the FBT and RUC exceptions – and not just snarky politician like remarks on why not some other policy.”

      The irony of claiming a “red lense” bias and in the same post, insist on ignoring a stupid policy altogether, instead only looking at positives, presumably through your blue lense.

      1. I am not saying ignoring the stupid parts. But cover the whole policy rather than dismiss it altogether. Yes my blue lenses may give less weight to the negative parts than your red ones, but I would give the blog more weight if it was impartial.

  15. I have solar power going back to the grid and I’m getting 8 cents a kw. it works out at $3.20 to charge my 40 kw battery and its good for about 270 km. no that’s an incentive, also watching the battery charge increase going down hill.

    1. Brian do you not suffer from range fear?

      Most EVs still have piss poor range, really inhibiting uptake here in the UK. I wanted to buy one but did the maths of cost vs range vs ice and ice won by miles even though I too have solar panels.

      EVs need to significantly reduce in price and increase in range for a normal person to pick one up.

      1. Plenty of normal people do short range trips only, so the range of a Nissan Leaf is fine for most journeys. If you need to go further you go by train (haha – not in New Zealand unfortunately) then you hire a car for local use if you need one.

  16. I think at first most people have range concerns, mine has a range of about 270 km and most of my driving is less than 50 so I only charge to full if I plan a long trip and check that the charging stations are OK. I also have a couple of charging alternative that I carry a 7 kw and a 2 km that plugs into a 10 amp plug so my idea is I could book into a motel and charge over night as a last resort.

    Here in NZ we are a bit short on charging stations in the south island but with a bit of planing I think most places are in reach, I thought EVs in the UK would have been better provided for and range was not a problem, I think the next couple of years will see a big increase in range and much lower prices as the Chinese ramp up production.

    As I am old I felt I couldn’t wait and money is earning nothing much in the bank so what the heck I bought a new Nissan Leaf I know it’s a bit of a waste of money but if I don’t spend it whats the point of saving for all those years to leave it to the kids.

  17. What is the alternative? There was talk about tax rebate for ev and tax for high emission cars. But after years nothing happened.
    The green party failed and in this election people will know who to vote for.

  18. That’s odd. Twice now I have tried to post a comment mentioning Na***nal and twice my comment has been flagged as “awaiting moderation”, only to then disappear (well the first one did, that’s why I wrote another). Is there an automatic detector at work that flags-up anything that looks political? I am sure I wasn’t breaking any of the commenter-rules!

  19. single occupant cybertrucks in the bus lanes . YeeeHaaa
    No FBT GST RUC or regional fuel tax, and depreciation to boot.
    Thanks Judith.

    1. remove GST on new EVs and EV specific parts
    2. reduce rego costs on new and 2nd hand EVs
    3. create EV Only parking areas
    4. mandate that ALL govt departments and CCOs move to all EV fleets within 2 years
    5. greatly increase the annual car rego costs for radio station “morning show” hosts who drive Maseratis
    6. remove FBT tax on company EVs

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