Electric bike subsidy is a no-brainer, so why can’t the UK Government see that?

Transport journalist Laura Laker explains why electric bikes are fun and practical tools, but high prices make them hard to access

Male cyclist in black riding the Pure Electric Flux One eBike

The electric bike is one of the most difficult types of bike, financially, for most people to access. With prices starting at around £1,000, it puts ebikes out of reach of many cyclists.

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This includes some who are self-employed, those on benefits and retired people, who aren’t eligible for tax-free bikes under the Cycle to Work scheme.

I love my own ebike, and how it takes me to places I wouldn’t otherwise cycle, unlocking the benefits of riding an electric bike. With electric motors that activate when you pedal, ebikes have helped me ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in nine days, and across hilly Cornwall laden with panniers.

Crucially, ebikes enable everyday cycling trips. Research found with a national network of safe routes, one in five trips could be made by bike. With widespread ebike access, that would be as high as one in four.

Electric bikes can replace car trips

Ebikes are currently the only type of electric vehicle without a subsidy in the UK.
Steve Sayers / Our Media

With 27 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions coming from transport and 91 per cent of that figure from roads, how much closer could electric bikes take us to meeting our fast-approaching carbon-reduction targets?

We know dropping the barriers to ebike ownership boosts uptake – and a purchase subsidy is a powerful way to do this.

As things stand, ebikes are the only electric vehicle without a purchase subsidy in the UK, but they’re arguably the most effective – and cost-effective – at replacing car trips.

A 2019 review of European ebike purchase subsidies by the Bicycle Association found on average 40 to 60 per cent of ebike trips generated by the scheme replaced car trips.

In France, purchase subsidy recipients increased their cycling from an average of 200km to 1,400km a year, and reduced their car trips by 660km.

Many wouldn’t have ridden at all without an ebike. According to the Bicycle Association, ebike grants would cut carbon at around half the cost of electric car subsidies.

The UK Government has cut electric car purchase subsidies and the cycling industry is, unsurprisingly, calling for money for ebikes instead.

While Cycling UK has launched its ‘Cycling made e-asy‘ ebike scheme, with bike loans and try-before-you-buy events, the trial is operating in only five pilot areas and stops short of purchase subsidies.

Some believe such a move would help only more wealthy people, who they believe would buy an ebike anyway to save money. However, surely the same could be said for electric vehicles?

Electric bikes are fun and practical tools

Electric bikes can change lives for the better.
Steve Sayers / Our Media

The current energy and cost-of-living crisis shows us how unsustainable and exclusionary our reliance on driving is – wealthier people tend to own more vehicles, and fuel subsidies disproportionately help them.

By failing to provide cheap non-car transport, from decent public transport to a network of safe walking and cycling routes, we’re trapping people in transport poverty and preventing them from participating fully in society.

During a pilot scheme in Cornwall loaning free ebikes to rural jobseekers, one participant named their borrowed bike Gabriel for the almost biblical transformation it had on their life. I know where I’d rather my taxes went.

Not only do ebikes flatten hills and enable you to cycle without getting sweaty, they’re fun and practical tools and can provide fitness benefits.

Anyone who claims ebikes are cheating frankly doesn’t understand them: you still pedal – and no one says you’re cheating by driving or taking a bus.

It’s simply the right tool for the job. If I hadn’t borrowed an ebike myself, and been able to keep it, I wouldn’t have one today.

It’s changed my life for the better, expanded my horizons and given me immense joy.

Imagine the impact it could have on someone who hasn’t cycled for years, who can suddenly get around by pedal power (or get around full stop) without the hassle and expense of driving.

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Electric bikes are transformative – we just need to wake up to their power.