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Pedelecs: a political View

Municipal decision-makers see pedelecs as an opportunity for cities. Significance of electric-assisted cargo bikes and potential in commuting traffic still underestimated.

Politicians and transport planners have taken notice of the pedelec as a potential solution for congested European cities. It’s true that politicians prefer to be pictured in or with electric cars, but alongside the yet to be resolved technical and wider problems of these it remains the case that electric cars do nothing to solve parking and congestion problems. A survey of European politicians as part of the Go Pedelec! project has shown that two-wheeled light electric vehicles – available commercially for several years already as high quality, reliable products – are receiving increased recognition, but also that their full potential is not yet acknowledged.

For the Go Pedelec! Project almost 150 politicians, planners and other decision makers in six European coun-tries were questioned about their approach to pedelecs as a mode of transport within their cities. The results show that the pedelec is seen as having high potential to solve urban transport problems. Over 80 % of those asked in Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are convinced that (electric) cycling can contribute to reduction of traffic jams in their cities. In Hungary two out of three politicians see this potential in pedelecs, and in Italy, somewhat over half hold this view.

Pedelecs: The Image Factor
Politicians and transport planners aren’t only aware of the practical advantages of two-wheelers; they also see the image advantages which being a “cycle friendly” city entails. 80 % or those asked from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic agreed with the statement that encouraging cycling leads to an improved image for a city. Town planners increasingly realise that pedelecs can contribute to a positive external perception. At the same time the majority of those questioned believe that promotion of pedelecs will also have positive effects for conventional cycling. More bicycle and pedelec riders will in an ideal world lead to improved infrastructure for cycle traffic overall through cycle routes and parking facilities, which will in turn encourage more people to transfer to two wheels.

On the other hand, there is a loud demand from various parties to separate the pedelec from the bicycle. They quote the presumption of higher accident rates because of the higher average speed of electric bikes, although this is not as yet backed up by any robust figures. It will be necessary to watch developments carefully, especially in the context of the associated calls for universal mandatory helmet wearing and insurance.

Do Decision Makers really know what they are talking about?
The most often stated argument for supporting pedelecs in town traffic is that electric bikes help to make hilly areas accessible to cycling. Even in the Netherlands, famous for being flat, the greater comfort (making headway without sweating) is a decisive factor which many frequent electric bike users place as their top priority.

Another advantage, that with the battery’s energy longer distances can be covered, is however not recognised by the majority of politicians and planners questioned. This is surprising in that the increased range is promoted as one of the strongest sales arguments by many pro-pedelec schemes.

The results of this study show that the politicians and decision makers questioned do basically recognise the potential of the pedelec for modern transport planning. The technical opportunities and more profound argu- ments are still however generally not well understood.

This can in part be put down to lack of experience, be- cause an average of 35 % of those questioned had still never ridden a pedelec, although this varied from country to country. In Germany, the Netherlands and Austria over 80 % of those questioned had already tried an electric bike. In other countries it was on average 50 to 60 %, and in Hungary just 25 %. A similar diffe- rence exists in the numbers of pedelecs appearing on the streets.

To fill the knowledge gap and to bring the full potential of pedelecs into the consciousness of town planners and politicians, further facts and figures are needed for this audience, so that they can embed electric bikes in their planning.

Differences: Western and Eastern Europe
The GoPedelec! Survey shows considerable differences in the assessment of the potential for the use of pedelecs in western and eastern Europe. This can in part be explained by the different strengths of the prevailing cycling cultures. Thus the bicycle is more valued by society as a mode of transport in Germany or the Netherlands than in Italy. A further explanation comes from the relatively high price of pedelecs compared to the lower average income in the eastern European countries.

Despite regional differences all those questioned still anticipated a great future for the pedelec in Europe. Around two thirds expect a growing number of pedelecs in their town, and around 15 % a considerably growing number.

Potential Pedelec Target Groups
From the perspective of municipal decision makers older people are the main target audience for pedelecs, because the motor will make cycling easier or even just possible again. The electric bike offers them the opportunity to stay mobile for longer, with associated positive effects for wider society in terms of social participation for this growing sector of the European population.

As a consequence of the under-appreciation by decision makers of the advantages of an increased range, they overlook the options of offering pedelecs to younger people. However those questioned were unanimous that pedelecs and bicycles could contribute to freeing up congested streets.

At the same time they concede no great potential for pedelecs in commuting traffic. This represents a missed opportunity to recognise and target communications at a significant target group. Equally underestimated is the significance of electric-assisted cargo bikes. Town planners and politicians still don’t see these as an appropriate logistics alternative. Measures to promote more awareness must go hand in hand with more information.

Grass roots measures such as public hire and charging systems, theft and vandalism protected parking facilities and the “eco bonus” when using or buying a pedelec were positively rated by all those questioned.

Results in Summary

  • Communal decision makers see in pedelecs an instrument with which to reduce traffic jams. In many cases politicians and decision makers for transport in Europe are ready to engage in encouraging pedelecs, especially as the term “bicycle friendly” is basically seen as a positive image for a town, whether electric or not.

  • The ‘elderly’ target group is well known; the ‘younger’ target group and with them commuter traffic, are being overlooked, particularly because the point about higher range is (except in the Netherlands) underestimated in importance. In holidays and resort regions the significance of pedelecs is already apparent, although still with growth potential. Also underestimated is the potential of electric-assisted cargo bikes.

  • Although those questioned see a great potential for the pedelec as a mode of transport, they are not fully conscious of the regulatory consequences and the longer-term future prospects for pedelecs in transport politics. So there is a need for further targeted explanation and information to further improve the image of pedelecs and hence to promote them.
Translation: Peter Eland, prepared within the EU GoPedelec! project: GoPedelec! Handbook (German version), Go Pedelec! Handbook in Czech, Dutch, English, Hungarian, and Italian

Picture: Go Pedelec!

Online release: Angela Budde

20 September 2012

Updated: 5 November 2012



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