Britain's first car-sharing motorway lane is opened

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The first car-sharing lane on Britain's motorways has been opened to traffic as ministers promised it would cut journey times and reduce carbon emissions.

The 1.7-mile road linking the congested motorways between Bradford and Leeds is only open to cars with two or more occupants. Taxis, buses and coaches will also be able to use the £5.33m road, which cuts six to eight minutes off journey times between the M606 and M62.

The lane has been built on the hard shoulder of the M606 and M62 eastbound, connected with a new stretch of carriageway.

Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, said she had identified 500 miles of motorway as possible sites for new traffic management schemes which could include car-sharing lanes.

She insisted the Yorkshire project would ease congestion and improve air quality. But critics attacked the decision to build roads to implement the scheme.

Ms Kelly said: "I think it's a really good example of how we can use the motorway creatively and make sure that people do have an incentive to travel with more than one person so that we have a greener motorway system. It makes really good sense here. This is an incredibly busy stretch of motorway where I know people suffer from traffic congestion and traffic jams."

Car-sharing lanes have been pioneered in the US, but drivers have tried to beat the system by putting inflatable dolls in passenger seats to give the appearance of car-sharing. Traffic police will patrol the new lane to prevent abuse of the rules.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "Any extra road capacity added to motorway pinch points is welcome. We will watch the use of the car-share lane with interest." But he warned: "Experience in the USA suggests that many high-occupancy vehicle lanes are under-used and therefore a waste of capacity. It is likely that many people who already car-share will benefit but unlikely that such a short stretch will tempt many potential car-sharers out of the driving seat."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats' transport spokesman, said: "While initiatives encouraging car-sharing must be welcomed, the Government should be using the existing lanes, rather than finding excuses to widen and build yet more motorways."

John Jarvis, transport project director at Northern Way, which funded the project, said: "If we can encourage greater levels of car-sharing through the provision of dedicated lanes at suitable locations, it will help lock in the benefits of additional road capacity."