As the internal combustion engine idles into the sunset, governments around the world that have been pumping subsidies into the transition to electric cars are starting to wonder if they have got it wrong.
Would it be better instead to incentivise the adoption of electric bikes?
It turns out that the answer is yes.
Electric cars and e-bikes have been around long enough now for proper analysis to be undertaken on what impact they are having on the transition to a low carbon economy.
It is true that where electric cars are encouraged with financial incentives consumers are more likely to switch over, and consequently emissions are reduced when the driver is behind there wheel.
But in some places—Paris for example—modest incentives are available to those who purchase an e-bike. Is the impact comparable?
No. In fact the positive environmental impact of e-bikes far exceeds that of electric cars because of one remarkable reason—e-bike trips replace car trips.
Studies are showing that 35-50% of e-bike trips would have been made by cars if an e-bike had not been available. In some studies of e-bike commuter trips the figure is as high as 94%.
In Europe an e-bike reduces car travel by about 4km a day. In Australia and the US the figure is estimated to be about double that.
This indicates that more widespread adoption of e-bikes in cities could result in a major reduction in overall car travel, and a significant drop in transport related emissions.
But there is more to it. A drop in car use at such a scale would have an immediate impact on a range of other environmental and health issues such as congestion, street amenity, and air quality.
Evidence is showing that the move to zero-emission electric vehicles is far too slow to impact the overall rise in transport related emissions in the time frame needed. And we still have all the problems of too much traffic.
So why are we providing financial incentives to a strategy predicted to fail?
Because en e-bike is considerably more expensive than a standard bike, customers are sometimes reluctant to purchase. But a modest financial incentive changes that.
Governments are now calculating that if the same investment was made to encourage e-bikes instead of electric cars, it is possible that the emissions target could be met.
And even more benefits are becoming evident as e-bikes become more popular. Those that have used them for some time often realise that their second car is redundant.
More recently, with the surge in the use of e-cargo bikes, the impact is even more dramatic. People find that they can now move bulky packages about easily—one of the reasons they thought they needed a car.
In Australia governments have not provided much in the way of direct consumer incentives for electric cars, at least not yet.
So perhaps they might be persuaded to take a different tack: If they are serious about emissions reductions there there need to get on board an electric bike.