Electric car turf war brewing in Oslo over bus lanes

Commuters using public transport in the Norwegian capital Oslo are quickly losing patience with electric car drivers, undermining the city’s reputation as utopia for electromobility.

Generous incentives for electric car buyers have seen a boom in sales of the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S in Norway, with more than 10 percent of new cars sold now powered by electrons instead of hydrocarbons. Almost incredibly, at one point last year the Tesla outsold any other car, while the LEAF regularly out-sells the Volkswagen Golf. Sales of the BMW i3, Peugeot iOn, and Volkswagen e-up! are also strong.

Reasons for buying an electric car range from enormous financial incentives to free parking, but the most highly valued perk is access to Oslo’s bus lanes. The city is heavily congested, particularly during rush hour when the bus lanes become something of a saviour for stressed Norwegians.

With the majority of the country’s 25,000-or-so electric vehicles taking advantage of this incentive, however, the bus lanes themselves are beginning to suffer from congestion, infuriating bus drivers and people commuting using public transport.

“The EVs have to get out of the bus lane,” Erik Haugstad, a bus driver on the front line of this disagreement, told The Wall Street Journal. Between apologising to late passengers and placating them over his bus’s intercom, Haugstad faces a daily battle to keep stick to his timetable, often failing.

Fostering animosity towards electric cars is something both Oslo and nongovernmental organisations want to avoid, and discussions are currently being held to find a solution. Electric car advocates argue that less extreme solution needs to be found before zero emissions vehicles are banned from bus lanes altogether, but others feels that the incentives can’t last forever, particularly given Norway’s huge rate of EV adoption.

“When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” one Tesla Model S driver told WSJ. “On the other hand, as soon as EVs get back into the normal car’s lane, that’s going to be worse for everyone.”

“Let’s face it, we don’t buy Teslas to be nice,” he added. “Once it’s this cheap and looks this good, well, of course we want a Tesla.”

Norway is already set to withdraw incentives by 2018, or when 50,000 zero emissions vehicles have been sold. This could be as soon as mid-2015, prompting questions over the country’s long-term commitment to electric vehicles, which it has so far been keen to publicise. In the meantime Olso needs to find a resolution to growing the growing frustration of commuters towards electric cars.