Would you ride a bike to work if it meant you didn’t need to break a sweat? The availability of affordable electric bikes is making cycle commuting a convenient option for people who would normally drive a car to work due to the distance between home and their workplace. E-bikes make it easier and quicker to ride longer distances than would be possible on an ordinary bike, making a 5–15km cycle commute a doable option for people with low to average fitness. In a spread-out city like Canberra, e-bikes have the power to get more people out of their cars and on to bikes, allowing the ACT not just to meet its active travel targets, but to turbo-charge our progress on greenhouse gas reduction.
On Monday, the ACT Government released its Transition to Zero Emissions Vehicles Action Plan which covers a suite of measures to encourage Canberrans to move to electric vehicles, including electric bikes. The plan outlines the government’s intention to investigate policy incentives to increase the take up of electric bikes in the ACT, and to allow its staff to salary sacrifice the purchase of e-bikes through their employment packages. The ACT Government has again demonstrated leadership and progressive thinking in encouraging use of e-bikes. E-bikes will change the transport landscape in Canberra, and be part of the solution to reducing our carbon emissions.
By 2020 100 per cent of our energy supply in the ACT will come from renewable sources and our next target is that by 2050 we will have no net greenhouse gas emissions at all. To achieve this, our community must come to grips with transport emissions, which are estimated to make up 62 per cent of all emissions once our renewable energy target is met.
Electric bikes are a key piece of this puzzle. E-bikes make cycling to work more attractive to more people, as they reduce the effort needed to ride longer distances. Not only that, but soon e-bikes will become an even more sustainable way to travel, being able to be recharged by 100 per cent clean energy from any home or workplace in Canberra once our renewable energy targets are met.
An e-bike is a regular bicycle with an electric motor that assists you to pedal, and kicks in strongly when you encounter hills or steep terrain, making the overall ride a shorter and more pleasant journey. With up to 200 watts of power, the motor boosts a rider’s pedalling power and speed. People who ride to work on e-bikes describe the effort of a 25km/hr ride as equivalent to no more than a brisk walk, so they can reach the office without breaking a sweat or needing a shower and a change of clothes. An e-bike makes the 5km ride from Weston Creek to Woden an easy 10 minute ride for the average person.
Around the world e-bikes are beginning to take over trips of 5–15 km, traditionally the domain of cars. In cities such as London and Paris, governments have subsidised the purchase of e-bikes through salary sacrificing and direct grants because they recognise that more e-bikes will mean less traffic congestion (better for drivers), less pollution (better for the environment) and a healthier population (better for health budgets and for us all).
Facilitating the uptake of e-bikes by more people is just part of the equation. We also know that investing in separated cycling infrastructure works - just look at the Sullivans Creek shared path. While the overall rate of trips to work by bike was just 3 per cent across the ACT, some neighbourhoods are already exceeding the 7 per cent target, with a healthy 11 per cent of trips to work being on a bike in the inner north. Separated infrastructure equals results, and for every rider on a separated path, there’s one less car on the road.
It’s exciting to imagine the kind of city that we can become if we continue to think creatively, challenge ourselves, and lead the way in providing viable alternatives to the private vehicle. E-bikes represent a new wave of cycling that has the potential to help us achieve both our active travel and green house reduction targets, to improve the health of our community and our environment, and to transform the way we live and move around our city.
Ian Ross is the chief executive of Pedal Power.