Cambridgeshire County Council has secured special permission from the Department for Transport to permit motorcycles and fully-electric vehicles (EVs) to use a bus lane in Cambridge. Its justification for the 18-month trial is that it will incentivise people to purchase these vehicles, and thereby supports government legislation to ban petrol and diesel cars from 2030.
The bus lane in question is 300m long, running north along Elizabeth Way (a relic of what was once to be a dual carriageway right through the city). It’s hardly a game-changer for someone contemplating paying upwards of £20,000 on an EV. So, what’s the point?
Should the trial be successful, “the Council will consider whether this exemption should be applied to other bus lanes in the city.” That could include on Trumpington Road, Newmarket Road, Milton Road (to be ‘upgraded’ by the Greater Cambridge Partnership at a budgeted cost of £23 million) and Histon Road (being installed now for £10 million). That could be quite attractive to drivers wanting to save a few minutes and signal their green credentials.
The move has been criticised on many grounds. For a start, the Elizabeth Way bus lane is barely used: Milton P&R buses no longer run that way, and very few people cycle in it because it’s easier to stay on the wide shared-use pavement. It will not show how many EVs can use a bus lane before they start holding up buses. It is unlikely to show if EV drivers close-pass people cycling in bus lanes. And it will not demonstrate how the council will deal with bus lanes that end at traffic lights triggered only by an approaching bus carrying a transponder.
It looks like a ploy to green-light a wider policy of permitting EVs in bus lanes. Yet the small incentive it will create to buy EVs is more than offset by the negative impacts on buses and cycling, which are far more sustainable (especially when taking into account the embodied carbon of an EV). So, what is the problem this policy is trying to solve?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 20 January 2021.