No electric bicycles in Ireland’s Climate Plan a “major omission”

— 61% of new e-bike trips replaced car trips, French study showed.

No mention of electric bicycles is a major blind spot of the Government’s Climate Action Plan, an expert told the Irish parliamentary committee on Climate Action.

“I also want to applaud Ireland on its plans to go electric,” said Fabian Küster, a senior policy officer at the European Cyclist’s Federation. “There is one major omission in the strategy, however, and that is leaving out the electric bicycle, e-bike.”

His comments were made as part of a delegation who spoke to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Climate Action while Dublin hosted the international Velo-city conference last week. It follows similar criticism from local groups.

Küster said: “We know the e-bike has a certain element of comfort, it brings more people to cycling and often over longer distances. It opens up opportunities for commuters, for the elderly, for people who are less fit and for people living in hilly areas. If one vehicle has the potential to substitute for car trips it is the e-bike, certainly in areas where there is poor public transport coverage. That is also the case for freight deliveries in cities. The cargo e-bike is a great solution for first and last-mile deliveries.”

He said that one reason the electric bicycle market is growing is that some EU member states have given financial incentives.

The UK Government announced last year that it would give grants of around £500 per electric bicycle, while Finland has a grant scheme of €400 per electric bicycle. The UK and also offers businesses up to £1,000 for cargo bikes and at city-level both Oslo and Vienna offer cargo bike grants of around €800-€1,000.

“France, for example, introduced a €200 purchase subsidy [on electric bicycles] and the sales figures between 2016 and 2017 almost doubled as a result. An ex-post analysis was also carried out with people who bought e-bikes and it was found that 61% of new e-bike trips replaced car trips. There is major potential here to get people out of their cars,” said Küster.

While separate to grant, he also said that the €1,000 cap on the Bike to Work scheme in Ireland “effectively excludes e-bikes”.

“If Ireland wants to go that extra mile,” said Küster. “It might consider something like what has been done in Belgium. A cycle allowance has been introduced there for commuters.”

He said that the employer can pay the employee 23 cent tax free for every kilometre cycled to and from work. He said: “To give an example, I live about 7 km from where I work and I get about €60 to €70, tax free, every month from my employer. I think that is a nice stimulus.”

John Lahart TD (FF) said: “Emissions, particularly in Dublin, are associated with transport, yet the Government’s plan puts a heavy focus on the use of electric cars. One could, therefore, end up with one cause of congestion replacing another. If that is the way we go, that is exactly what will happen. Electric cars will congest the city in the same way as diesel and petrol cars. There is very little emphasis on cycling as an alternative.”

Dr Rachel Aldred, transport researcher at the University of Westminster, said: Evidence shows that motor traffic is the fundamental barrier to getting more people walking and cycling. People do not want to mix with motor traffic and that problem remains with electric vehicles.”

She added: “They may be more pleasant to interact with than vehicles belching diesel fumes but electric vehicles are still a problem for walkers and cyclists. We need a step change for cycling. We need safe, separated cycleways on major roads and there is a consensus of evidence on that point.”

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

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