Green number plates considered for electric cars

Government to hold consultation on green number plates for zero-emissions vehicles

The Government has announced a consultation about plans to give zero-emissions vehicles – including electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars – green number plates.

The Department for Transport (DfT) believes such a measure would allow local authorities to quickly identify clean cars, which would make exclusion areas like London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) easier to police.

Incentives such as lower parking fees and permission to drive down bus lanes would also be more manageable.

Three possible designs (image above) have been commissioned ahead of the consultation: an all-green number plate, and two others with a green portion on the far-left side.

“Green number plates are a really positive and exciting way to help everyone recognise the increasing number of electric vehicles on our roads,” said Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps. “By increasing awareness of these vehicles and the benefits they bring to their drivers and our environment, we will turbocharge the zero-emissions revolution.”

The consultation over green number plates is part of the DfT’s 'Road to Zero' strategy, which set out the Government’s ambition to see ultra-low-emissions vehicles form at least half of all car sales by 2030. Currently, around 1% of newly registered vehicles are electric.

The Road to Zero plan is inspired by a similar scheme in Ontario, Canada, where drivers of clean vehicles have free access to toll lanes, among other perks. This has led to an increase in electric-vehicle registrations, raising hopes that similar results can be achieved in the UK.

However, the head of roads policy at the RAC, Nicholas Lyes, is sceptical about the effects of green number plates. He explained: “While the sentiment seems right, there are question marks as to whether drivers would see this as a badge of honour or alternatively it could foster resentment among existing drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles.

“On the face of it, drivers we’ve questioned don’t seem too impressed – only a fifth think it’s a good idea and the majority said the number plates wouldn’t have the effect of making them any more likely to switch to an electric vehicle.

“Incentives may make a difference in the short term and the possibility of free parking and the permission to use bus lanes at certain times could encourage some to switch, however many drivers remain cool on the idea even with this encouragement.

"Also, if these perks were to do their job and encourage people to switch, councils would have to quickly get rid of them again, as they’d be losing parking revenue and no doubt be accused of allowing bus lanes to become clogged with electric vehicles.

“Given [the cars'] relatively high up-front costs, only those drivers who could afford to make the switch to an electric vehicle would benefit – leaving the vast majority who still rely on petrol and diesel cars losing out.

“We continue to believe that the best way of encouraging drivers to ‘go electric’ is for the Government to be providing the right financial incentives at the point of purchase, and investing in better charging infrastructure.”

Presently, the government’s plug-in car grant takes up to £3,500 off the price of a vehicle that can travel at least 70 miles without emitting any CO2. Another grant contributes up to £500 towards the cost of installing a wallbox charging unit at home.

The president of the AA, Edmund King, also cast doubt on the proposed green number plates, saying: “While some will see it as a ‘plate of honour’, drivers should be given the option of adding them onto their vehicle. Other incentives, such as cheaper parking, will help, but reinstating the grant for hybrids would also encourage those not ready to go for the full EV.”