Government's Road to Zero report plugs e-cars, but not bicycles

The Bicycle Association and cycle campaign groups have reacted with dismay at the government's new report on zero-emission vehicles – there's no mention of the original zero-emission vehicle, the bicycle.

The Department for Transport's Road to Zero report sets out ambitious and costly plans to get Brits driving electric motor vehicles in order to reduce transport pollution, but the report wholly ignores cycling.

Back in May, BikeBiz reported that the DfT was to start a consultation on "plug-in" grants for e-cargobikes. The Road to Zero report mentions this but doesn't go on to support e-bikes or cycles. If consumers get grants to persuade them to buy zero-emission motor vehicles, shouldn't they also get such grants for buying e-bikes and bikes?

“It is extraordinary that the Government can publish a strategy on low emission vehicles and ignore electric bicycles while saying nothing new about cycling more generally," complained Cycling UK's policy director Roger Geffen.

Rachel White, senior policy advisor at Sustrans, agreed: “The UK Government has missed an opportunity to make active travel more accessible to all in its strategy by not including measures to support e-bikes."

She added: “There is a strong argument for linking the Road to Zero strategy with the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. Whilst moving to cleaner electric vehicles has a role to play in helping us tackle our air quality and climate change crisis, 45 per cent of particulate matter – of which there are no safe levels for human health – comes from tyre and brake wear. A switch to electric vehicles fails to address this. We need fewer not just cleaner vehicles on our roads.”

The Bicycle Association's operations director Steve Garidis said: “We welcome that the Government’s Road to Zero Strategy commits to exploring financial incentives for e-cargo bikes. However, the Government should be doing more to encourage the uptake of e-bikes of all kinds."

He added: "Unlike electric cars and vans, e-bikes are a road-ready solution for our air pollution crisis, and don’t need the same investment in costly infrastructure. We encourage the government to bring cycling in line with other low emission vehicles by extending the current OLEV electric vehicle subsidy to e-bikes.”

The Road to Zero strategy is aiming for at least 50 per cent of new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030, and the DfT said the government will take steps to "enable massive roll-out of infrastructure to support the electric vehicle revolution", but there no plans for a similar national roll-out of cycle infrastructure.

Bicycles get people out of cars. E-cargobikes can take the place of vans for many urban deliveries but, still, the Government appears to be wedded to motorised road transport.

While cycling is considered to be a "local" issue to be delivered via cash channelled to local authorities, Road to Zero is setting out a national strategy with lots of centralised cash, and it has been linked to the government's national Industrial Strategy. 

Despite one of the four pillars of this Industrial Strategy being "mobility", it would appear cycling is largely ignored by the Government.

"The Government will work alongside industry, businesses, academia, consumer groups, devolved administrations, environmental groups, local government and international partners to enable the deployment of one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world and prepare for a greener future for the UK’s roads," said a DfT statement issued today.

Greener future? After shoe leather, bicycles represent the greenest possible form of land transport.

By omitting cycling from the Road to Zero report, the Government is omitting a key form of zero-emission transport from its thinking.

The Road to Zero report says that the existing Plug-In Car and Van Grants will be extended to at least October 2018 at current rates, and in some form until at least 2020. This will allow "consumers to continue to make significant savings when purchasing a new electric vehicle".

Subsidies for buying bicycles? None.

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