The trial launched on 14 December 2020 and could run for 18 months while Cambridgeshire Country Council reviews whether to extend the scheme

The trial launched on 14 December 2020 and could run for 18 months while Cambridgeshire Country Council reviews whether to extend the scheme

Cambridge has become one of the first UK locations to allow electric vehicles to use bus and cycle lanes in a trial that – if deemed successful – may be extended across the city. 

The scheme is currently operating on the Elizabeth Way bridge using an existing bus lane travelling northbound only.

Motorcyclists have also been granted access to the lane as well as zero-emission vehicles. 

The idea is part of wider plans to incentivise electric car ownership, which would in turn improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions in the area.

However, the scheme – dubbed ‘Tesla lanes’ by critics – has been slammed by motoring organisations and cycling campaign groups.

Cambridgeshire Country Council gave the trial the green light from 14 December 2020 after raising an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) – a legal document that imposes traffic and parking restrictions so local authorities can determine if schemes works in practice. 

An ETRO can stay in force for up to a maximum of 18 months while the effects are monitored and assessed.

In this case, the ETRO has granted an extension to the use of the bus lane on the bridge, which was previously only open to buses, cyclists and taxis. 

The council said: ‘This is a trial and is intended to test the effect of allowing these additional vehicles to use the bus lane. If successful it may be extended to other bus lanes in Cambridge.

‘We will consider in due course whether the provisions of the Experimental Order should be made permanent.’

The statement also clarifies that all objections or comments to the order becoming permanent must be received by the local authority by no later than 13 June 2021. 

The scheme is currently operating on the Elizabeth Way bridge using an existing bus lane travelling northbound only

The scheme is currently operating on the Elizabeth Way bridge using an existing bus lane travelling northbound only

A local cycling campaign group has dubbed the scheme 'Tesla lane', saying it will only be used by those with the expensive US cars. It said the trial will 'degrade the bus service and intimidate people on cycles'

A local cycling campaign group has dubbed the scheme ‘Tesla lane’, saying it will only be used by those with the expensive US cars. It said the trial will ‘degrade the bus service and intimidate people on cycles’

The council says the scheme is enforced by CCTV cameras mounted on a pole that record vehicles entering the bus lane.

If non-EVs are caught in the bus lane, drivers will receive a £60 fine.

The scheme launched just weeks after the introduction of special green number plates for electric cars.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary who owns a Tesla Model 3, spearheaded the push to allow zero-emission vehicles to display the special plates, which have a light green flash down the left hand side. He was the first to display one on his expensive electric car when they were legalised on 8 December 2020. 

The aim of the plates is to make EVs easy to identify so that future incentives to promote ownership, which could include free or cheaper parking in city centres and the potential use of bus and cycle lanes. 

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps (pictured), spearheaded plans to allow electric cars to display special number plates with green flashes

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps (pictured), spearheaded plans to allow electric cars to display special number plates with green flashes

‘Telsa lanes’ criticised by RAC and local cycling campaign group 

Motoring organisations and cycling campaign groups have spoken out on the trial. 

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said that – while the concept was ‘well-intentioned’ – it could ’cause confusion for drivers and serves to undermine the very purpose of a bus and cycle lane’.

He said: ‘What’s more, the incentive is likely to prove short-lived as more pure EVs are coming on to our roads all the time. 

‘And, as soon as sales of electric cars really take off, the council will have no choice but to fork out more money to put everything back to how it was before.’

Mr Dennis added that the initiative was at odds with national efforts to encourage drivers to cycle and walk more. 

‘In addition, it doesn’t seem to make great sense for cyclists as they are allowed to ride in bus lanes and will now have to contend with increasing numbers of electric cars,’ he continued.

This is a dreadful precedent to set, which will lead to the destruction of public transport priority and will further deteriorate already poor conditions for cycling 

The RAC’s concerns have been echoed by a local cycling group.

CamCycle, which is Cambridge’s cycling campaign charity, said allowing electric vehicles in the bus lane should be ‘extremely alarming to anyone who cares about cycling safety and public transport’.

In a statement published on its website, the group said: ‘Electric cars are still cars. They take up a lot of space on the road, may endanger people who are cycling and will surely congest a facility that is meant to help public transport function more smoothly. 

‘This is a dreadful precedent to set, which will lead to the destruction of public transport priority and will further deteriorate already poor conditions for cycling.’

It added: ‘Electric cars are still relatively expensive, so this ETRO is effectively granting the owners of high-end cars, such as the Tesla, the privilege to degrade the bus service and intimidate people on cycles, for now. 

‘As electric cars become widespread the bus lanes will quickly become jammed up just like any other car lane.’ 

A scheme is also operational in Nottingham allowing electric and some hybrid cars to use a bus lane on a busy road in and out of the city

A scheme is also operational in Nottingham allowing electric and some hybrid cars to use a bus lane on a busy road in and out of the city

An ULEV - Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle - covers all 100% electric cars and hybrids that emit less than 75g/km CO2

An ULEV – Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle – covers all 100% electric cars and hybrids that emit less than 75g/km CO2

Nottingham has already introduced its own trial that gives low-emissions cars access to bus lanes.

Anyone driving a battery electric car or hybrid vehicle that produces less than 75g/km CO2 can access the ‘Daleside Road bus and ULEV lane’ on the A612, which is a major route in and out of the city.

More schemes are expected to be announced in the years leading to the proposed ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rubber-stamped for 2030.

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