Electric bikes celebrated in first ever e-bike-only parliamentary debate

MPs from all parties have called on the government to offer grants for purchasing electric bicycles. Those purchasing electric cars and vans are subsidised to do so through grants provided by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles but, oddly, neither bicycles or e-bikes are deemed to be "low emission vehicles".

Yesterday in parliament the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Andrew Selous secured a debate on this anomaly. He also praised e-bikes in general as did many other MPs, including the transport minister Jesse Norman, a long-time e-bike user, who chided his fellow parliamentarians for being late converts.

Norman said:

"I have been very impressed by the lobbying energy, if nothing else, of the e-bike industry in relation to so many of my colleagues, who have the feel of latter-day converts to a new religion. As a man who has been riding a bike for 45 years and riding an e-bike for some years, I am delighted that colleagues have come to the table and I congratulate them. Of course, I invite them to submit any of these newfound revelations and the evidence for them to the cycling and walking safety review, which addresses precisely these issues, including air quality and health effects, in a very holistic way."

Pic of transport minister Jesse Norman

Jesse Norman

The minister added: "We believe that e-bikes can play a very important part in the decarbonisation of our transport system. Colleagues will be surprised to learn that we have been thinking about this issue for some time. It is important to draw a distinction between e-bikes, the price of which is falling, the diversity of which is increasing and the market for which is working quite satisfactorily in many ways – although I can understand that colleagues recently discovering them might like a subsidy from the Government – and e-cargo bikes, which have a very important potential public purpose in substituting for diesel-using small vans, especially in urban contexts. We will be looking very closely at that particular issue as part of the wider picture."

Selous, the Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire and who was introduced to e-bikes through the ACT and LCC's Green Commute initiative ten weeks ago, had introduced the debate thus:

"Electric vehicles will help us to reach our carbon commitments; they are the answer to low-cost, pollution-free motoring for our constituents; and, perhaps above all, it is essential for the United Kingdom to grasp global leadership of this key industry of the future, so that a new and up-and-coming industry’s jobs and investment will be here in the United Kingdom."

He added: "In my constituency, I live on a hill. I cycle with a conventional bike in London, but at the grand old age of 56, I found that extra boost helped me to get to and from my constituency office on a daily basis, and on one day twice. With my electric bike, I took more exercise that week than I have probably taken all year. That is the thing about electric bikes: they open up cycling to older people, and people who are anxious about ability or fitness, people wanting to arrive somewhere sweat free when there are no workplace shower facilities. They can deal with carrying luggage and shopping; even commercial cargo is easy on an e-bike."

Shadow education minister Tracy Brabin said she was "deeply excited about electric bikes" and added that "in my constituency, there is very little uptake of cycling compared with in the wider Yorkshire and the Humber region. The electric bike will encourage people with disabilities, people who want to go further and not get changed and people for whom it may not be in their culture to ride a bicycle. It is a fantastic and exciting step forward. I celebrate the electric bicycle."

Responding, Selous said:

"Journeys by e-bike are longer, with an average of 5.9 miles compared with 3.9 miles. Importantly, 18 percent of disabled cyclists own a bike with electric assistance. It is fantastic to get more disabled people cycling, too.

"In 2017, we had 63,000 sales, but Spain sold 66,000, Switzerland sold 87,000, Austria sold 120,000, Italy sold 155,000, Belgium sold 245,000, France sold 255,000, the Netherlands sold 294,000 and Germany sold a whopping 720,000 in 2017. That is more than 11 times the number in the United Kingdom, so we have a little catching up to do."

Plugging the need for an e-bike grant, he added:

"What can my good friend the Minister do to help? I checked the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ definition of “vehicle”, and I think it could include a bicycle. Let us be a little less siloed.

"Germany offers a subsidy of up to €2,500 for the purchase of an e-bike. In France, a modest €200 subsidy for a 12-month period led to a 31 percent increase in sales. There is huge potential in this area, and I say to the Minister: let us be at the forefront of the electric bike industry as well as the electric vehicle industry."

Other Tory MPs lined up to support the need for government grants for e-bikes. 

Labour's Ruth Cadbury, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, added her voice to this clamour:

"There is no doubt that the extent of cycling and e-bike roll-out in other countries in Europe has been massive and that the UK is behind the trend, so I have some recommendations for the Government that could help us to catch up. First, OLEV should recognise e-bikes as low emission vehicles, which would unblock some subsidy options that are available to other types of e-vehicles. Secondly, the Cycle to Work scheme limit should be increased to £2,500 for e-bikes, since very few e-bikes come in below the £1,000 current limit. Thirdly, for registered disabled people, cycles and e-bikes, including e-trikes, should be incorporated into the Motability scheme to provide more mobility opportunities for people with disabilities."

And shadow transport Rachael Maskell echoed this point, pointing out what many other MPs had pointed out, that it was odd for OLEV not to classify e-bikes as low emission vehicles and therefore eligible for grants.

"If grants from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles are available for electric cars and motorbikes, why can they not be available for electrically assisted bikes, too?"

She added: "The benefits of that would be even greater in the future."

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