UK cities are to allow electric car drivers to beat congestion by using bus lanes, as part of a government drive to encourage uptake of the cleaner vehicles.
Milton Keynes and Derby will copy similar measures in Norway and allow the cars to drive in miles of bus lanes, while owners in Hackney will be able to plug in at street lights. York drivers will be able to recharge their batteries at a solar-powered park-and-ride and electric car owners in Bristol and Milton Keynes will be allowed to park for free.
The schemes were announced by the Department for Transport on Monday as part of a £40m pot shared out among eight towns and cities. Nottingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes and London are the main beneficiaries, but Dundee, Oxford, York, Derby have also won funding.
Electric cars are seen as a key way for the UK to meet its carbon budgets and cut the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution that blight many British cities. While still relatively niche compared to combustion engine cars, the number of 100% electric cars registered in 2015 nearly doubled on the year before, to 9,934.
In Norway, incentives including generous tax breaks and allowing electric cars in bus lanes have spurred uptake of the cars which now account for nearly one in five of all new cars sold.
London, which suffers the worst air pollution in the UK, gets the lion’s share of the funding. The Go Ultra Low fund will give the capital £13m for “neighbourhoods of the future” in several boroughs, where electric cars will be prioritised over other vehicles.
The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin , said: “I want to see thousands more greener vehicles on our roads and I am proud to back this ambition with £40m to help the UK become international pioneers of emission-cutting technology.”
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, gave the initiatives a cautious welcome but said ultimately it was up to industry to drive take-up.
“We are all in favour of encouraging drivers to go ultra-green, but the risk of relying on perks such as access to bus lanes, free parking and exemption from London’s congestion charge is that they can be at odds with other policies such as promoting public transport and easing congestion,” he said.
The government has pledged to continue a long-running electric car grant, but it will decrease in April from the maximum £5,000 currently available to between £2,500 and 4,500, depending on which models buyers choose.