No councils in England introduced incentives for green number plates

An electric car on the Millbrook Proving Ground track test track in Bedfordshire, UK Paul Markillie/ Alamy
Last year saw stripes of green appear on number plates for electric cars. The UK government hailed them as a step towards cleaner air and cities, since they would allow local authorities to offer incentives.

New Scientist's freedom of information requests revealed that nine months after the introduction of green number plates in England, no one of England's 343 local authorities had offered any incentives.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean stated that the UK's adoption of green stripes would raise awareness about the increasing number of cleaner vehicles and provide drivers with incentives.


In a press release, the Department for Transport (DfT), stated that local initiatives would allow motorists to benefit from cheaper parking and free entry into zero emission zones.

However, the New Scientists inquiry found that no incentives had been implemented by councils using green number plates. Many councils stated that they had already implemented incentive programs, including free or discounted parking for electric car drivers, before the plates were issued. Others said they were looking into them in the future.

Camden Council in London went so far as to state that they would not consider using them for identification of an electric vehicle, citing a few instances where they were used fraudulently.

Jack Cousens, a motoring organization, said that it is disappointing that no local councils offer incentives to vehicles with green number plates. Although several councils have begun to offer some benefits, more need to do so to make it happen faster.

The DfT believes that awareness is the primary purpose of the plates. In its December 2020 press release, the department mentioned incentives from local authorities three times as a reason for introducing green stripes. The department even stated that the plates would help to improve the quality of air in cities and towns. Local authorities still depend on number plate recognition or the more complicated process of drivers providing vehicle registration documentation to identify electric cars that may be eligible for incentives.

Last year's electric car sales soared by nearly 186 percent. The UK also promised to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. However, the government has not been clear about its support for electric cars. These vehicles are essential to reducing air pollution and meeting climate goals. A grant for electric cars was reduced from 3000 to 2500 in March.

Greenpeace UK's Doug Parr says that while there are some good reasons to switch to electric cars there are many other reasons why we should decrease our dependence on private cars. So the lack of incentives is not a problem. However, while the government has committed to ending new sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 it is not beneficial for this type of transition to be driven by phantom incentives without any follow-through.

A spokesperson for the DfT told New Scientist that green number plates are used to distinguish vehicles based upon their environmental impact. They also educate road users and encourage cleaner driving. Local authorities can also use them to enforce and design regional policies and incentives such as zero-emission zones and free parking.

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