Lack of e-bikes in climate action plan criticised

Electric cars should not be main focus for transport improvement, say experts

More than two million e-bikes have been sold in the EU, with sales largely driven by incentive schemes.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

More than two million e-bikes have been sold in the EU, with sales largely driven by incentive schemes. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

 

Electric cars should not be the main focus for transport in the Government’s climate action plan, city planning and cycling experts told the Oireachtas climate action committee on Wednesday.

Although pollution would decrease, the aim of putting at least 950,000 electric vehicles on the roads by 2030 would leave the streets no less congested than they are today, the European Cyclists Federation’s senior policy officer Fabian Kuster said.

Mr Kuster criticised the recently published climate action plan for failing to contain “a single word about e-bikes”.

“I think that is a real shame,” he said, adding that electric-powered bicycles should be a substitute for medium-length car trips and have the potential to mobilise areas with little public transport.

Three in four journeys in Ireland are made by car, despite the fact that more than half of all trips are less than 8km, according to data from the Central Statistics Office. Mr Kuster said the Government is “missing an opportunity” to get people out of their cars and using more sustainable, active transport modes.

More than two million e-bikes have been sold in the EU, with sales largely driven by incentive schemes, such as a €200 subsidy in France. Mr Kuster suggested Ireland’s Bike to Work scheme tax exemption limit be increased from €1,000 to allow for more affordable purchasing of e-bikes and cargo bikes.

Electric bicycles are not only suited to cities, but can improve mobility in rural areas, where private car use is higher. Cycling or e-biking should be encouraged as part of longer, more rural journeys by implementing bike parking spaces at bus and train stations, he said.

‘Fewer vehicles’

Mr Kuster praised the Government’s decision to allocate 10 per cent of its transport spending on cycling infrastructure, which he said is a “major step in the right direction”.

If e-bikes are to be embraced, safe parking spots that will prevent them from being stolen must be provided.

While electric vehicles can help countries decarbonise, they are “not going to be enough” on their own, Dr Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster told the Committee. “There is a lot of scope to get more people cycling and walking in Ireland,” she added.

“Evidence shows that motor traffic is the fundamental barrier to getting more people walking and cycling. Electric vehicles may be more pleasant to interact with than diesel and petrol fumes, but they are still a problem for walking and cycling,” Dr Aldred said.

She said Ireland needed “cleaner fuels but also fewer vehicles”, adding that “substantial behaviour change” is required alongside safe, segregated infrastructure.

There are many “major co-benefits” in reducing cars and increasing active-travel modes, that “you don’t get from just switching to cleaner fuels,” she added.

Disabled pedestrians are at a disproportionate risk from motor vehicles, she said, adding that cycling was more accessible to those on lower incomes who struggle to afford cars. It can also boost public health and give children back their independence and space to play.

“Children used to be able to roam freely and they are now basically prisoners in their own homes... because of the risk from motor traffic.”