Electric cars are to be allowed in bus lanes in Derby and Milton Keynes. Currently private cars and other types of vehicle are banned from such lanes while they are in operation (rules vary at local level), but cyclists are typically allowed to use them.
The news was revealed by the Department for Transport (DfT) as it announced that four cities will share £40 million funding in an initiative designed to boost uptake of electric cars.
Those cities had entered a government competition called the Go Ultra Low City Scheme, with successful submissions including ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) being prioritised in several London boroughs for parking and charging.
Other winners included Milton Keynes and Derby, and in both locations ULEVs will be allowed into bus lanes, something that is likely to cause concern among cycle campaigners. In Bristol, meanwhile, they will be permitted to use carpool lanes.
Allowing electric vehicles to use bus lanes is seen as a carrot that can entice motorists to switch to cleaner transport.
Zac Goldsmith, Tory candidate for the mayoral election in May, said in November he would let drivers of the vehicles use bus lanes, as cyclists and black cab drivers can – although ultimately, he plans to scrap the city’s bus lanes altogether.
One particular issue is that unlike petrol or diesel powered vehicles, electric ones are silent, so someone on a bike may be unaware that there is a ULEV immediately behind them.
Such concerns have been widespread for several years, with manufacturers such as Nissan, whose Leaf was the world’s first all-electric mass produced car, introducing artificial engine noises to help other road users become aware of the vehicles presence.
In 2011, BBC News reported how Professor Paul Jennings had been experimenting with an electric vehicle at Warwick University’s campus that gave off a variety of noises.
He said that simply replicating a conventional engine noise “would be losing a huge opportunity.
"We all know traffic noise can be annoying and the levels are significantly high. We do not want to lose the benefit we could get from using new reduced sounds.
"The challenge is to create sounds that are as safe as possible but also ones that are much more pleasing for the urban environment," he added.
In today’s DfT announcement, Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, commented: “We’re excited to see the innovative ideas put forward by each of the winning Go Ultra Low Cities become reality over the coming months.
“The £40 million investment by government, combined with funds from each winning area, will transform the roads for residents in and around the four Go Ultra Low Cities.
“With thousands more plug-in cars set to be sold, cutting running costs for motorists and helping the environment, this investment will help to put the UK at the forefront of the global ultra-low emissions race.
“Initiatives such as customer experience centres, free parking, permission to drive in bus lanes and hundreds of new, convenient public charging locations are sure to appeal to drivers and inspire other cities and local authorities to invest in the electric revolution.”
Secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin said: “These Go Ultra Low Cities have proposed exciting, innovative ideas that will encourage drivers to choose an electric car.
“I want to see thousands more greener vehicles on our roads and I am proud to back this ambition with £40 million to help the UK become international pioneers of emission cutting technology.
“The UK is a world leader in the uptake of low emission vehicles and our long-term economic plan is investing £600 million by 2020 to improve air quality, create jobs and achieve our goal of every new car and van in the UK being ultra-low emission by 2040.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.