Norway has emerged as a world leader in the introduction of electric vehicles, and Oslo seems to have become the electric car capital of the world. Their growing numbers on the roads, however, are troubling the city’s bus drivers who say they’re slowing down public transport.
The number of electric cars (elbiler in Norwegian) on the roads into Oslo has more than doubled since last year. They emit lower or zero greenhouse gases, less air pollution and less traffic noise, making them much more environmentally friendly than traditional “fossil” cars.
There are already 13,000 elbiler on the roads in Norway, half of them registered in the capital and neighboring Akershus, and they’re hugely popular. The Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) has set a target of 50,000 zero emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2018, and is giving drivers lots of advantages to encourage uptake. Elbiler’s access to the bus lanes, though, is apparently causing problems.
“Many just throw themselves into the transport lanes without thinking about the big vehicles coming up behind them. We have to be on constant look-out. This is a problem that’s just growing,” said Lars Harein Sæther, head of the Union of Norwegian Transport Employees (Yrkestrafikkforbundet or YTF). On some busy stretches of highway, such as the E18 between Oslo and Drammen, bus drivers even have trouble meeting their tight schedules because of the cars, he told newspaper Aftenposten.
With one of three drivers saying they want their next car to be an EV or a ZEV, the elbiler could lose the bus lane privilege at some point. “We have to look at other solutions, like having three lanes on the E18 in both directions,” said Lars Haltbrekken from the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Naturvernforbundet). He suggests that major highways into Oslo should have three lanes; one for buses, one for cars running on petrol and diesel, and one for zero-emissions cars.
It’s unlikely, with the government targets, there will be any ban on bus-lane driving in the near future, according to Ivar Christiansen, head of department at The Directorate of Public Roads (Vegdirektoratet). But he thinks the authorities do need to investigate the scale of the problem on the roads and could introduce more surveillance to prevent sneaky driving, or better marking on the roads to prevent traffic queues.
It’s the financial and time savings, over the environmental benefits, that really draw consumers. The most popular perk among EV drivers is that they can pass through all the traffic toll barriers all over Norway without paying. Second, they don’t have to pay purchase taxes, which are extremely high for ordinary cars in Norway, or the usual 25 percent VAT. Third is the low fuel costs, according to a recent survey of elbil drivers from the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association (Norsk Elbilforening).
Driving in the bus lanes ranks fourth in the survey, but can cut journey times by half or more. And elbil drivers also enjoy free municipal parking as well as some reserved parking spaces, a huge advantage in Oslo, where parking is expensive and scarce.
Elbiler, with the trademark letters EL on their license plates, now make up 7 percent of all car sales in the capital (3 percent for the whole country), and there are loads more models on the market. The electric Nissan LEAF is now the second-best selling car in the country. Demand keeps growing, many buying them as a second car, and the fast, prestigious Tesla is also a new status symbol among drivers of all types of vehicles.
Electric cars also have a much better range now, meaning they can typically drive 75 to 150 km before they need recharging (the average Norwegian drives 42km per day). The charging infrastructure is being developed as well, with 4,000 charging points across the country now, and 100 fast-charging stations set up this year.
And in a few years hydrogen cars are also predicted to come onto the market in Norway. These can be filled in just three minutes, and can drive as far as a normal car. At the moment they’re still very expensive, but some experts predict they’ll also be affordable to the average consumer by 2020.
Norwegian politicians need to let drivers have the tax exemptions and other advantages for a long time, and there needs to be proper upgrading of the charging stations for electric cars, and the filling stations for hydrogen cars, according to Stig Skjøstad, administrative director of the Norwegian Automobile Association (Norsk Automobil Forening or NAF). “This has to happen if we’re going to reach our climate goals,” he told newspaper Aftenposten.