Electrifying the transport sector

The Ebike Summit 2020, in partnership with EDF Energy, took place online last month, with speakers discussing how the e-bike industry can help promote sustainable transport. Rebecca Morley looks at what this means moving forward

E-bikes have been growing in popularity for some time – offering people an easier, sweat-free way to get from A to B. In fact, recent reports suggest that their prices could be cut by up to a third thanks to a Government subsidy scheme to encourage people to cycle to work – aiming to make it easier for commuters riding in business outfits and those who are older or less fit.

The Ebike Summit 2020, taking place this year online, addressed the business of e-bikes with the wider purpose of promoting sustainable transport, with panels covering OEMs, e-cargo bikes and research.

Increasing participation
Up first in the OEM panel was Julian Scriven, MD of Brompton Bike Hire, who spoke of rising sales and a shift to electric bikes. “Roughly one in five Bromptons that are being built today are Brompton electrics,” says Scriven. “We see that trend growing even further. Next year we expect sales to double; we expect that shift between non-electric and electric Bromptons to change further.”

But with bike sales increasing rapidly this year, the industry has also faced issues with the supply chain. Joshua Hon, team captain at Tern, which in August unveiled the new GSD electric cargo bike, says customers wanted orders cancelled early in the year due to things shutting down, but then in April things “kicked back up”. “Especially with electric bikes, but even with regular bikes, a lot of the lead times are really far ahead. Short-term, there’s not a lot we can do. All of the suppliers are full.

“Looking into the future, one of the questions is: the demand for 2021 looks good – how do you see it going forward? We think it’s going to be pretty good. “Any market where you see Governments putting in that investment, cycling will grow. We see that in a lot of different cities. It’s not limited to Europe, we see it in the United States and Asia as well. We are feeling very confident looking forward.”

Sustainable deliveries
Demand for deliveries has also been high in 2020, with people working from home and therefore choosing to shop online even more so than usual. This has offered an opportunity for e-cargo bikes, which have significant benefits including fuel cost savings and improved local air quality – something many businesses will find particularly attractive as we work towards a green recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak. And earlier this year, funding was awarded to 18 local authorities from the £2 million eCargo Bike Grant Fund, funded by the DfT and delivered by Energy Saving Trust.

“Cargo bikes are a passion, we live it on a daily basis,” says Olivier Vander Elst, founder of GreenAer. “From our experience, it’s completely transformational. We see families ditching both cars for cargo bikes. With the pandemic, it’s been very clear that the direction is now permanent, because it was a great excuse to layout safer infrastructure for cycling. A lot of people now feel safe to adopt these solutions, where before they would have been sitting on the fence.”

European research has suggested that 10-15% of all deliveries could be replaced by the e-cargo bike sector in the coming years. Cargo bikes have the potential to improve the cityscape too; last-mile logistics firm Stuart conducted a five-week trial using electric cargo bikes supplied by Pure Electric, with each bike making an average of 100 deliveries a week and covering an average of over 200 miles a week. Pollution was also reduced by over 300kg of CO2.

Earlier this year, Raleigh launched an electric cargo bike line, designed to carry up to 100kg in weight and have a range of up to 75 kilometres on one single charge. And in October, it teamed up with highway giant Ringway Jacobs to test the potential of e-cargo trikes within business infrastructure. The trial, which primarily took place in London, supported workforces with transporting materials, tools and equipment between sites, as well as providing individuals with faster and more reliable means of transport from offices to sites.

“Transport [is] a way of life, a means to get from A to B,” says Lee Kidger, managing director of Raleigh UK, during his keynote speech at the summit. “Typically, the UK tries to get there as quickly as possible. However, the worldwide situation through COVID-19 has changed people’s transport solutions. UK Government statistics show a reduction in people using public transport and an increased level of outdoor transport such as cycling or walking.

“The next six months are key for the whole transport sector to combine and become more electrified, and the use of e-bikes, e-cargo bikes for both B2B and leisure, and also electric cars and vans, can really help drive that forward. For electric cargo bikes, discussions with last-mile delivery and courier companies to understand their requirements and the barriers to entry are so vital to develop in this new market. There are challenges though, courier companies are being pushed outside of cities, but consumers want their products faster, quicker and more conveniently.”

There are 3.2 billion parcels shipped in the UK, and it won’t stop there. This equates to roughly one parcel, per person, per week. But according to research, consumers are willing to pay up to 5% more for products and services that are environmentally friendly and as online sales increase year-on-year, so does the demand for eco-friendly last-mile delivery services.

“The bicycle industry is at a crossroads,” says Kidger, “with Government investment this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we must seize fast. Temporary measures are great, but they must be made permanent. The electric bike market is a big enabler for people to cycle. The market data shows the growth in the sector.

“Look at our European counterparts such as in the Netherlands or Germany. Cycling is a way of life, used for both transport and leisure. For us to capitalise on this we must engage with not just cyclists, but everybody, to further explore the physical, economical and mental benefits for cycling.”

Keeping fit
E-bikes accounted for 12% of cycling sales’ value in the UK between January and August 2020. This represents an increase from 9% in the same period in 2019 and a second straight year of growth. But while this rise is encouraging, there is still some way to go if we are to catch up with our European counterparts.

“It’s fair to say that the UK market is at an early adopter stage of use of electric bikes,” says Edward Pegram, business manager at Raleigh UK. “In the UK, only around 2% of mileage is accumulated by bike, which is increasing, but it’s still relatively low when you compare it with a country like Holland – where around 27% of the journeys are made by bike. Most of those are utility journeys that in the UK would probably be taken by car.

“This research was not to say that we should replace all journeys with bikes; it’s how we, in the UK, can fit the bicycle, or the electric bike predominantly, into everyday life to replace some of those journeys.” There are huge social and economic benefits to cycling. Research conducted by Cycling UK has stated that if we move from 2% of mileage accumulated by bike to 10% by 2050, this would have economic benefits of around £42 billion.

“While we know that the e-bike can have huge benefits sustainably, it can also aid in economic recovery,” Pegram continues. “There are a lot of schemes like Cycle to Work which make electric bikes more affordable. In terms of COVID recovery, it could broaden horizons.

“The e-bike can do many things, one of which is connect rural and urban environments with ease – they have a range of around 120 kilometres now on one charge. This could be huge for not just urban mobility, but rural as well. In terms of the cargo bike, there’s research that suggests around 25% of journeys that are made by commercial vehicles could be conducted by cargo bike. It’s about how we work with other industries – public transport, the private sector – to create a journey for electric bikes and how they fit into business, but equally get more individuals motivated to cycle more in any way possible.

“It’s really important, particularly in the shift that we’re seeing with more people working from home, to keep people active. It’s about individual motivation but also businesses and employers to get people that are working from home out and about, making sure they’re keeping active, because that in itself will have huge benefits.”

Switching to e-bikes can have big environmental benefits too. Ian Philips, senior research fellow (ESRC Fellowship), faculty of environment at the University of Leeds, says that people who use an e-bike to replace car travel are physically capable of cutting car CO2 by up to 50%. “Even if we realised a fraction of that capability, and even being humble about the fact that no technology is a panacea, e-bikes are strategically important to decarbonisation,” says Philips.

“The greatest opportunities for carbon reduction are for residents of rural and suburban areas. In parts of major city centres, savings are on average around 200kg per person. But in a lot of rural areas, people have the capability to knock 1,000kg off their transport carbon by switching to e-bike use from cars.

“Not everyone in every community could make use of an e-bike, but in many rural and suburban communities, there are many people who are physically capable of replacing over 5,000 kilometres of car use each year.

“Policymakers have to take away the barriers to realising that capability. If you’re trying to persuade policymakers to spend money on e-bike decarbonisation they might want to pilot it first, so it makes sense to target rural and suburban areas which have the capability to deliver a lot of CO2 reduction per pound spent.”

While conventional walking and cycling can reduce the number of short car trips in urban areas, for these shorter inter-urban journeys between five and 15 miles, e-bikes can be strategically very helpful. These journeys represent a bigger chunk of our car CO2 than the short urban journeys, Philips says.

“Some might say it is unrealistic to think about replacing half our car travel with e-bike use. But in lockdown one, we halved our car use overnight because we had to; it’s quite reasonable and realistic. There’s a large number of people in a variety of places who could make a big change with a new bike.”

Healthier cities
Tom Hayes, councillor at Oxford City Council, spoke of the “tremendous” levels of congestion in the city, and a recent consultation to introduce measures which would help to address it. “We’ve got a lot of interesting insight about how the public would warm to measures which reduce congestion in the city and reduce our dependencies on cars.

“We want to be a leader in the country for addressing air pollution. That’s because we know that it leads to disproportionately harmful impacts on younger, older and poorer people in our city. We want to make sure that nobody is made to suffer from harmful impacts of air pollution. People can suffer from harmful health impacts of physical inactivity, some of the biggest drivers of disease and illness in our city can come from physical inactivity.

“It’s important to reflect on why the council wants to address all the problems,” Hayes continues. “It’s a problem fundamentally of fairness. We know it isn’t fair that when emissions are belched into our air, it disproportionately impacts on younger, older and poorer people. It isn’t fair that the people who contribute the least to climate breakdown,
but who will live longer than most of us, are going to be left to sweep up the nets.

“We know it isn’t fair that our transport system in Oxford, as it is around the country, is overwhelmingly geared towards the motor vehicle. What we need to do is to create fairness in the transport system so that cyclists and e-bikers can just have their fair share of transport infrastructure. To create a fair society, we need to move towards an e-biking society.”

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