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.