In May 2016, the Government announced the Electric Vehicles Programme (the Programme), which aims to encourage and promote the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in New Zealand.

As part of the Programme, the Government has agreed to an initiative to enable road controlling authorities (RCAs) to make bylaws to allow EVs access to special vehicle lanes (including transit, high occupancy vehicle, priority bypass, and bus lanes).

Cabinet agreed that the Minister of Transport should introduce legislation to:

  • amend the Land Transport Act 1998 to clearly empower road controlling authorities to make bylaws allowing EVs to use special vehicle lanes
  • make amendments to the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004, and related provisions in the Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004, to enable RCAs to allow EVs access to special vehicle lanes

The vehicle to make the Land Transport Act 1998 change is the Energy Innovation (Electric Vehicles and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. We are progressing the respective rule changes separately under section 152A of the Land Transport Act 1998.

Following proposed legislative changes, opening up special vehicle lanes to EVs will ultimately be a decision for RCAs, in consultation with communities.

What is a road controlling authority?

A RCA is the body responsible for the management of particular sections of road. For local roads, local councils are the RCA and for State Highways the NZ Transport Agency is the RCA. Signs on specific lanes will indicate where EVs can use them.

What does the Bill amend?

The Bill amends the Land Transport Act 1998 to clarify the powers of an RCA when making bylaws to identify EVs as a specified class of vehicle so they can be given access to special vehicle lanes.

What is the definition of an electric vehicle?

EVs in this context are motor vehicles with motive power wholly or partly derived from an external source of electricity. This includes vehicles which are powered solely by electric batteries (pure EVs), as well as plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that operate on a combination of externally charged batteries and a petrol or diesel motor. This is because these vehicles plug in to and make the most use of New Zealand’s renewable electricity, offering the most potential for emissions reduction. This does not include conventional hybrids which have batteries and an electric motor but have no ability to plug in to charge the batteries.

What do the amendments required to the Land Transport Rules look like?

To enable RCAs to make bylaws to allow EVs access to special vehicle lanes changes will also need to be made to the Road User Rule and the Traffic Control Devices Rule.

The Road User Rule changes include:

  • adding a definition of EVs; the proposed EV definition is:
    “a motor vehicle with motive power wholly or partly derived from an external source of electricity”
    As noted above, the definition would include PHEVs and pure EVs but not conventional hybrids.

  • altering special vehicle (bus and transit lane) definitions to include EVs as permitted users if RCAs make relevant bylaws; the proposed amendment to the special vehicle lane definition is:
    an EV may use a special vehicle lane if it is specifically included by a marking or sign installed at the start of the lane. Currently vehicles that are allowed to access these lanes are noted in the definition of the lane.

  • extending the application of B (bus) traffic signals to EVs. The Road User Rule currently provides for the requirements of lawful users of bus lanes and light rail lines (this also includes cycles, mopeds, motorcycles) and needs to be extended to include EVs, if an RCA makes the relevant bylaws.

The Traffic Control Devices Rule changes include:

  • creating the markings and signage necessary to notify road users whether an EV may use special vehicle lanes. In particular, we envisage that the requirements are likely to display the words ‘EV’, which will be fitted on existing signs or marked on the road.

These proposed rule changes are subject to whether changes to the Land Transport Act 1998 are passed.