The first car-share lane on a British motorway is likely to increase traffic rather than reduce it, green groups say.
A scheme announced yesterday for West Yorkshire for 2007 - and another planned for the M1 the year after - both involve road-widening and will attract more vehicles to the motorway, it is feared. Friends of the Earth and Transport 2000 contend that ministers should have used existing motorway lanes in each case if they were serious about tackling carbon emissions.
The one-mile section in West Yorkshire will start at the junction of the M606 and M62 between Bradford and Leeds. The £2.5m initiative will allow vehicles carrying more than one person to bypass congestion at junction 26 of the M62 and gain priority entry to the eastbound M62. It is hoped that it will cut rush-hour journeys by eight minutes on average.
The M1 scheme will operate between junction 7 near St Albans in Hertfordshire and junction 10. To prepare for this "high-occupancy vehicle lane", a £289m project began yesterday to widen the M1 from junction 6A near Watford to junction 10 south of Luton. The M1 car-pool lane will only be open to vehicles with two or more occupants during peak hours. It has yet to be decided if motorcycles will be allowed.
In both schemes, police patrol vehicles are likely to enforce the regulations rather than cameras. It is expected that transgressors will be fined, although the amounts are yet to be fixed.
In America and Australia, where successful schemes have already been introduced, some motorists resorted to planting dummies or blow-up dolls in their cars so that they could slip past congested spots in priority lanes.
Car-share lanes are under consideration by the Highways Agency as part of the £1.5bn project to widen 63 miles of the M25 after 2008.
Meera Rambissoon, of Transport 2000, said her organisation welcomed car-sharing schemes, but would oppose any attempt to use them as a guise for widening roads. "Extra lanes tend to mean extra traffic," she said.
Roger Higman, transport campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the Government should have used existing motorway lanes. "With 'green' initiatives like this, it is little wonder traffic and carbon dioxide emissions have risen under Labour. The Government must take real action to tackle climate change," he added.
Chris Grayling, the Tory transport spokesman, said: "There may well be some merit in a pilot of this kind, but it is difficult to avoid the sense that this is simply another gimmick to distract attention away from the Government's catalogue of broken transport promises.
"The Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, is reannouncing something he said over a year ago and which is already running six months late. The Government has already abandoned its pledge to cut congestion by 2010 and the scheme announced today will do nothing to solve the jams."
Mr Darling said: "We are committed to continuing the investment in our road network, adding new capacity where needed and building world-class public transport systems. These measures alone will not solve the underlying problem of congestion. That is why we are looking at the possible benefits that road pricing might bring in tackling congestion on our roads."
Not for dummies
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Anyone who doubts that the US takes seriously its decades-old high-occupancy vehicle system for busy motorways should consider the experience of Greg Pringle - recently sentenced to stand at a junction in Denver, Colorado, holding a sign proclaiming: "HOV lane is not for dummies." Pringle's offence was to plant a mannequin dummy he called Tillie in the passenger seat of his car, allowing him to use an HOV lane and thus cut 30 minutes off his daily commute into Denver. His wheeze was discovered by a traffic policeman and a judge ordered him to stand at a busy city junction for four hours, a commuter-age equivalent of the medieval stocks.Reuse content