January 12, 2021
Active Travel

What’s The Future For E-mobility In 2021?

By Jonathan Oldaker

We’ve used batteries our whole lives, from phones to toothbrushes, they’re everywhere. But while the battery might be relatively old tech, only now could it be set to revolutionise the way we move.

Electric car technology is still more expensive than internal combustion engines, but e-scooter and e-bike sales have been surging as people seek socially-distanced, Covid compliant modes of transport. E-mobility is set for more rapid expansion this year.

The e-scooter market value is predicted to hit £20 billion by 2025, with a strong post-pandemic recovery forecasted. However, they still face laws, regulation, and infrastructure questions. E-bike sales took off last year too, but what’s needed to encourage people to actively ride them?


Behavioural changes

Well before we’d even heard of the coronavirus, what were primary considerations when it came to travel?

According to new data, time to destination, convenience, price, privacy and avoiding congestion all ranked higher than risk of infection. Unsurprisingly, following the Covid-19 outbreak, risk of infection is now the primary reason people choose mode of transport.

This has produced an increase in private car use, but is also producing a boom in walking, cycling, and micromobility services.

As well as stopping the spread of infection, climate change has a big part to play too. Upcoming bans on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles have already been put in place by many countries, with many more expected to join.

The time for green, covid-compliant transport, then, seems straightforward. But it’s not without obstacles.


E-scooter rental trials

Last year, Halfords saw a surge in e-scooter sales following the pandemic. But hang on, aren’t they illegal on UK roads? Technically yes, and that’s part of the reason journeys being made on private scooters remain low.

Originally scheduled for later this year, e-scooter rental trials for UK cities were given the green light in the wake of the Coronavirus. Fleets of hire scooters could, then, be the norm in big UK cities by the end of the year, mimicking successful schemes in Paris and Lisbon.

But crucially, the majority of people using these fleets in Lisbon are tourists – not locals. So how can this be changed to encourage commuters?

Perhaps it’s convenient bay locations, better affordability, and better infrastructure extending to residential areas. The signs are certainly there that e-scooters have the popularity to succeed, but these questions will need answering.


An E-bike revolution?

Now that batteries are lighter, longer-lasting, and more powerful, the benefits of e-bikes are coming to light.

They’re a quick, efficient, and accessible way to move. Removing fitness barriers and stopping you ever arriving at important meetings covered sweat, they’re well-suited to urban travel.

Last year, popular cycle to work schemes removed the £1,000 value limit on bikes and with that, introduced e-bikes to the scheme.

That move has been credited with an uptick in e-bike sales. Removing a chunk of the price tag adds to the climate and covid friendly benefits of e-bikes.

It has been touted that the fleet of Santander bikes – or Boris bikes – in London are set to go electric in 2021. But like e-scooters, there are hurdles to overcome.

Dockless bike companies have faced difficulties in the UK with abandoned and stolen bikes, plus criticism that bikes left on pavements are dangerous for the visually-impaired and other disabilities.

Last year, Uber’s Jump merged with Lime, and their e-bike fleet is currently leading the London market. How new companies manage with the dilemmas of security, battery charging and swapping, and usability will hinge on whether we’ll see hundreds of new e-bikes on our streets or not.


Better infrastructure and parking?

Despite the new technology and affordability of e-scooters and e-bikes, without the right infrastructure, they’re unlikely to reach full potential.

Recent e-scooter research concluded that parking locations need to be right to encourage use. Rather than simply increasing the volume of e-scooters in any given city, the location of parking bays is what is going to make the difference.

For e-bike storage, charging stations for privately owned bikes are likely to pop up more frequently, and finding a way to safely park dockless fleets will remain a priority.

More bikes increases the need for cyclist-friendly racks and shelters, too. For people with e-bikes, which tend to be more expensive than other models, you’ll need added protection and security.

And what about on the roads? Segregated cycle lanes have proved to be the surefire way of keeping cyclists safe from traffic. The more that are installed, the more likely new consumers are to actively use e-bikes across UK cities in a safe manner.

If E-mobility can resolve and adapt to these challenges, it has all the ingredients to change the way we move.

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