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Can electric cars use bus lanes?

Electric cars have become more popular in recent years, in response to the demand for ecofriendly transport. So much so that some cities are allowing them into bus lanes, to encourage people to buy them.

Driving | electric cars

In Britain, the government has been upfront about allowing electric cars to use bus lanes, but the situation in Northern Ireland (NI) is less clear-cut. While NI has been somewhat supportive of the electric car revolution, bus lane access seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Although the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland gives grants of €5,000 to people buying electric cars - with free recharges at over 1,200 points - electric car numbers have yet to exceed 3,500. In light of this apathy, bus lane access is unlikely to be a priority anytime soon.

In the Republic of Ireland (RoI) in 2016, Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten said that the Irish government was seeking to promote the ownership of electric vehicles (EVs), in line with policy in Norway and Germany. Options under consideration included free public parking, exemptions from VAT and road tax, and access to bus lanes.

If progress in RoI hasn’t exactly been swift, the situation in NI doesn’t look much better. Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has said there are no immediate plans to allow electric cars to use bus lanes. He added, however, that it may be an option for business vehicles in the near future. Such a concession would be a great way to promote EVs, while helping businesses make a smooth transition to ecofriendly transportation. But for the average commuter, Minister Hazzard’s comments suggest that bus lane access is not on the horizon for now.

Despite the shortage of incentives in NI, the government may seek to replicate the British model. In 2016, the British government announced that it would invest £40 million in London, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Bristol, Dundee, York, Oxford and Derby as part of a drive to boost the uptake of cleaner cars. In each of these cities, EV users can avail of a variety of incentives, including access to bus lanes.

NI has already invested in EV tax incentives. Electric cars are exempt from fuel duty, vehicle excise duty, company car tax, van benefit charge, fuel benefit charge and enhanced capital allowances.

Across the border in RoI, efforts are being made to ensure that all new cars and vans will be zero-emissions capable by 2030. Irish Electric Vehicle Owner’s Association member Frank Barr says, ‘We need to aggressively promote and encourage EVs if such targets are to be met on time’. Bus lane access would tie in with this strategy, persuading consumers that electric vehicles would save time on their commute.

Despite would-be incentives, however, demand for EVs remains so sluggish that some charging points have been removed altogether. ESB, which manages the charging points, says it plans to relocate charge points in low-demand areas. ESB operates around 300 charge points in the north, and 1,200 across Ireland as a whole. Unfortunately for EV drivers, this limited number of charge points has already outstripped demand. With such a lukewarm reception for EVs, serious discussion about bus lane access will not be on the agenda this week, or next.

So, although electric cars are not allowed to use bus lanes in NI at present, it looks likely that access will be granted in time. The zero-emissions target suggests a desire to boost the use of EVs, but underused power points and ambivalence about bus lane access will set electric vehicles back a number of years. This is not good news for EV drivers looking to speed up their commute. However, as Britain and countless European countries make way for electric vehicles, owners in NI know it’s just a matter of time.

* Call AXA for an electric vehicle motor insurance quote today.

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