Lisa Conibear, Global Commercial Director, UK and Europe, Zoomo

Why e-bikes need to be at the forefront of decarbonisation

Lisa Conibear, global commercial director at Zoomo, explains the role e-bikes can play in decarbonisation

This piece first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

The world is warming faster than at any point in human history, something we experienced first-hand this summer, with Government action required as soon as possible. To reduce greenhouse gases, transport needs to be firm on the agenda when it comes to introducing new legislation.

Not only does it account for a substantial percentage of our yearly emissions, but when you compare the challenge of creating a low-emission transport network to the task of decarbonising the UK’s power infrastructure, it is an easier shift to make.

There are several ways the Government can make transport more sustainable. Incentivising people to switch from gas-guzzling vehicles towards low-emission vehicles such as electric bikes is an obvious place to start. This can be done through rebates, subsidies, bike loan-schemes, and general awareness raising.

We’ve seen this done with electric cars, but thus far light electric vehicles have not seen the same levels of incentives, despite their outsized impact on emissions reduction. Greater investment into the research and development of alternative vehicles, as well as relevant infrastructure such as bike lanes, bike storage spaces and charging points for e-bikes will also help make individuals and businesses more inclined to naturally switch to greener vehicles.

With the cost-of-living crisis already forcing people away from private modes of travel, the Government must look to seize this momentum. It is also not just about the movement of people, commercial vehicles are responsible for one third of all transport emissions in the UK.

As demand for instant delivery grows across the UK, the Government must also look at how it can help businesses and the entire delivery and logistics sectors utilise alternative vehicles to vans and mopeds. Again, improving infrastructure will help, but the Government must work closely with business leaders to increase awareness of the dangers of commercial petrol vehicles for the environment, as well as the advantages of alternatives such as e-bikes.

Role of e-bikes
E-bikes will play a vital role in decarbonising the transport sector and moving cities closer to net zero. The carbon emissions from an e-bike compared to traditional vehicles such as vans or cars are substantially lower, with research indicating that businesses have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 75% by switching deliveries from vans to e-bikes.

On a larger scale, every light goods vehicle (LGV) replaced by a pedal or e-bike in central London saves over one tonne of CO2 and almost three kilograms of NOx per year, which is the equivalent to a damage cost saving of £270 per year per vehicle.

This is enormous, and if the Government is serious about decarbonisation, we need to remove LGVs from our roads and replace them with cycle freight as quickly as possible. Not only do e-bikes produce less emissions, but they are also more efficient on the roads, allowing couriers and businesses to record shorter emission-saving journeys.

Zoomo research found that e-bikes can, on average, complete 30% more deliveries every day than any other vehicle, proving how efficient e-bikes are. The Government says investment in active travel is one of the best returns on investment it can make and has set an ambitious target – 50% of all journeys in towns and cities should be walked or cycled by 2030.

E-bikes can make this a reality and provide our best chance of making urban mobility as sustainable as possible. E-bikes are incredibly diverse, they can be applied to almost any fleet and logistics sector and have countless use cases across the globe. They are the perfect solution to accelerating decarbonisation, we just need to give them more of a chance.

Health benefits
Sustainable transport methods provide countless benefits that go far beyond just cutting down carbon emissions. Sustainable transport alternatives like e-bikes allow individuals and couriers to save considerable time on their journeys, and on a bigger scale are doing so much towards our goal of reaching carbon neutral cities.

Walking and cycling, two of the most sustainable modes of transport possible, also bring significant health benefits to individuals. Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and is responsible for between 28,000 and 36,000 premature deaths per year.

Of course, not every journey can be made on foot or by bike, but every journey that is made on more sustainable vehicles such as e-bikes means one more polluting car is off the road, making the air we breathe marginally safer and providing fewer health risks to the local and global population.

Amsterdam is an interesting proof point for how sustainable transport can provide a multitude of health benefits for entire societies. The city’s cycling boom is estimated to save 50,000 sick days a year, and interestingly this is having an impact on a far wider scale as this approximately adds €15.3 million in annual economic value.

The health benefits of sustainable vehicles can bring economic value at a local and global scale, with the health advantages of cycling corresponding to more than 3% of the Dutch GDP. These economic benefits of sustainable transport are something that isn’t talked about enough, with many sustainable vehicles also providing significant financial relief at an individual level.

E-bikes for example are much cheaper to run than petrol vehicles, and remove the need to spend on petrol, emission charges, insurance, fines, parking… the list goes on.

Of course, this isn’t the case for all sustainable vehicles, yet the low barriers to entry that many light electric vehicles have provides even more of a reason for the Government to incentivise their uptake, especially during a cost-of-living crisis.

If we can increase the number of journeys that are completed on sustainable transport methods like e-bikes, our cities will transform dramatically for the better. Congestion will reduce the need for huge infrastructure like roundabouts and high-rise parking will fall, and ultimately, we will create more space in our cities for humans.

This is such an exciting prospect, and if this can be replicated around the world, we can globally create happier and healthier cities to live and work in.

2022 and beyond
Further investment into bike-friendly infrastructure across the UK must be a priority. Without adequate and safe cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes and bike storage, people won’t make the switch from cars to sustainable vehicles like bikes and e-bikes.

I would love to see more Government subsidy for alternative, greener vehicles like e-bikes, as they have done in the past for electric cars. The uptake of e-bikes in the UK is much lower than in other European cities, despite the huge potential for growth in the country.

We need to provide safe biking infrastructure, e-bike charging points and appropriate legislation for all types of light electric vehicles. It is not just about the journey though; we also need to think about the destination.

E-bikes and cargo bikes are bigger and heavier than standard bikes and users need secure places to park and store them. Currently there are not enough storage facilities for bikes in cities like London, with it being reported earlier this year that it is five times more expensive to access a monthly parking space for a bike in London than a monthly permit to park a car.

There is also a five-year waiting list for these bike spaces. This is crazy, and something that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. If the Government can promote sustainable vehicles like e-bikes, whilst continuing to discourage the use of petrol vehicles, we will make huge strides towards meeting our net zero targets.

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