Simon Bridges faces backlash over electric cars in bus lanes

By Amelia Wade

Simon Bridges ignored official advice and only consulted with the New Zealand Transport Agency about plans to allow electric cars to use bus lanes. Photo / File
Simon Bridges ignored official advice and only consulted with the New Zealand Transport Agency about plans to allow electric cars to use bus lanes. Photo / File

Transport Minister Simon Bridges ignored official advice to consult with councils before announcing he would allow electric cars to use bus lanes.

He now faces a backlash with one council indicating it won't implement the policy and another considering whether to enforce it.

Documents from the Ministry show he was told it would be "important to discuss" the measure before making any form of announcement on the Government's high-profile, multimillion-dollar bid to get more New Zealanders into electric cars.

The advice said councils would likely be uninterested in allowing electric vehicles [EVs] in bus lanes because of the impact on public transport.

But the Herald checked with the nation's three biggest councils, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and none say they were consulted with before the announcement.

The only authority which was consulted with was the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Bridges, who is overseas, would not answer questions on ignoring the Ministry's advice but said the Government would pass the legislation because it was the "single most effective non-financial incentive you can put in place to increase [electric vehicle] uptake".

This was evident in places like Norway and California, he said.

In Norway, the scheme was included in a raft of other incentives including generous tax exemptions but two years after electric cars were permitted in transit lanes the plan has shown to impact negatively on bus networks.

Bridges said the Government was not mandating EVs in bus lanes as ultimately it would be a decision for the Transport Agency and regional councils.

However, through changing the legislation councils would "have the opportunity" to assess whether it was a good option for their region or not.

Andy Foster of the Wellington City Council said his city had the country's highest rate of public transport use "by far" and did not foresee it opting for the change.

"Traffic getting in the buses' way is not conducive to maintaining reliable timetables."

Foster, who chairs the council's transport and urban development committee, said he saw "no chance" that electric vehicles would be allowed to use the city's bus-only lanes.

Auckland's buses are already unreliable and too often stuck behind cars in traffic because of not enough bus lanes. The government would reduce pollution more effectively if it invested to support more reliable and frequent public transport in Auckland.
Julie Anne Genter, Green Party

"Bus lanes are generally very well respected by motorists. If some vehicles start using bus lanes because they are [electric] there is a greater risk that others which are not [electric] will do so too."

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said they too were not consulted prior to the announcement and were currently working through the implications of the policy.

And transport operations manager Steffan Thomas said Christchurch City Council had been invited to a workshop with the Ministry of Transport later this month or in August.

"Although the Council is very supportive of electric vehicle use, we do need to take into account the effects that this change may have on the outcomes that we are trying to achieve through investment in bus lanes."

The Transport Agency said it had begun initial discussions with Auckland Transport to investigate the potential of permitting electric vehicles on the Northern Busway and that it was consulted prior to Mr Bridge's announcement.

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said Bridges "probably hoped" the policy would distract from the fact he wasn't offering any new financial incentive.

Genter called Bridges' electric vehicle plan "all back to front".

"Auckland's buses are already unreliable and too often stuck behind cars in traffic because of not enough bus lanes. The government would reduce pollution more effectively if it invested to support more reliable and frequent public transport in Auckland."

Genter said the Green Party would exempt electric vehicles from fringe benefit tax, a move that would cut at least $8000 from a $40,000 electric car.

- NZ Herald

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