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Not providing subsidies to buy electric bikes described as a “missed opportunity” in plan aimed at eliminating vehicle emissions

The government’s Road to Zero strategy, published today and which seeks to lay the groundwork for eliminating almost all road traffic emissions by 2050, has been criticised by cycling campaigners for failing to acknowledge the role electric bicycles can play in helping achieve that target.

The strategy foresees continuing existing grants to purchasers of electric cars, vans, taxis and motorcycles at leased until 2020, but Sustrans says there has been a “missed opportunity” to also provide subsidies to people buying e-bikes, as happens in a number of other European countries.

The strategy does say that the government will consider offering incentives for e-cargo bikes, but the charity Cycling UK said that it was “extraordinary” that no mention was made of e-bikes generally, an omission also highlighted by the Bicycle Association.

Unveiled today by transport secretary Chris Grayling, the much-delayed strategy seeks to build on the government’s stated aim of making the UK a world leader in electric vehicles.

Among its proposals are providing additional cash to fund more charging points for electric vehicles throughout the country, as well as considering whether there should be a requirement for builders of new homes to provide facilities for charging them.

The only reference to bicycles came in a section addressing ‘last mile deliveries’ with the government saying:

We are considering further options for reducing emissions for last mile deliveries, particularly in urban areas. We will shortly launch a call for evidence on this subject, including exploring for the first time providing grants and/or other financial incentives to support the use of e-cargo bikes.

Cycling UK policy director Roger Geffen said: “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.

 “E-bikes are a fantastic solution for enabling a lot more people to cycle. They can enable older or disabled people to take up cycling, while allowing people of any ability to cycle for longer or hillier journeys than they would otherwise have wanted to make by bike.”

He added: “Unlike electric cars, they can tackle congestion, road danger and physical inactivity as well as reducing emissions – and they are tremendous fun too.”

Sustrans also criticised the government for failing to consider e-bikes as part of its strategy.

The sustainable transport charity’s senior policy and political adviser, Rachel White, commented: “The UK government has missed an opportunity to make active travel more accessible to all in its Road to Zero strategy by not including measures to support e-bikes.

“Whilst we welcome the government’s commitment to hold a call for evidence on last-mile deliveries, including consulting on the provision of grants or other financial incentives to support e-cargo bikes, we would like to see financial support for all e-bikes to encourage their uptake.”

She continued: “E-bikes are a green way to get from A-B which reduces our carbon emissions and improves the quality of the air we breathe.

“They are also a more accessible active way to get about for those that may live in very hilly areas, or may be less physically able to use a pedal bike such as the elderly. However, they are still prohibitively expensive for the majority of people.

“There is a strong argument for linking the Road to Zero strategy with the ‘Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy,” White added.

“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.”

Steve Ganidis, operations director for the Bicycle Association, said: “We welcome that the government’s Road to Zero strategy commits to exploring financial incentives for e-cargo bikes, which can play a central role in reducing air pollution on our streets.

“However, the Government should be doing more to encourage the uptake of e-bikes of all kinds, as they provide a cost-effective solution to key challenges the government is addressing as part of its Industrial Strategy, like air pollution, road congestion and clean growth.

“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,” he added.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.