EEK! Why does EECA have an e-bike blind spot?

Aug 26, 2019
EEK! Why does EECA have an e-bike blind spot?

Bike Auckland

This is a guest post by micromobility expert Oliver Bruce, who asks: why does the government fund for innovation in electric vehicles continue to have an e-bike-sized blind spot?

A government grant programme aimed at reducing transport emissions by encouraging innovation in the uptake and use of electric vehicles has been running since 2017. So far, e-bikes haven’t been included under under the funding umbrella, but it’s long been hinted that would change.

However, the funding criteria for the coming year have just been released – and e-bikes (as vehicles) aren’t included. Only bike storage/parking is eligible for the fund.

Which makes no sense, because lack of parking isn’t the main barrier to e-bike adoption; it’s the upfront cost of the bikes. Long story short, this is a massive missed opportunity to assist in rapidly driving down emissions in our transport sector.

What’s the fund?

The New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency (EECA) has administered the Low-Emission Contestable Fund, a “fund that offers up to $7 million a year to co-fund projects with private and public sector partners.”

The point of the fund is to “encourage innovation and investment in electric and other low emissions vehicles in New Zealand” and it specifically targets areas where commercial returns aren’t yet strong enough to justify full private investment. Six rounds of funding since January 2017 have supported 129 projects across the country, with grants going to electric car charging infrastructure, electric delivery vans and freight trucks, and public mainstream vehicles such as demonstration car shares, taxis and buses. The fund either outright purchases the vehicles and associated infrastructure, or provides a grant for the cost difference between the status quo option and the electric alternative.

What’s the missed opportunity?

To date, the Fund has exclusively defined electric vehicles as “mainstream vehicles, such as passenger vehicles, buses and trucks”.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s e-bike boom has gone from strength to strength, with 100%+ growth in imports during the first six months of this year. Just last week NZTA and the Sustainable Business Network launched a guide for employers to making it easier for employees to purchase e-bikes, which will be offered to thousands of public sector employees. And more and more New Zealanders are embracing the way e-assisted bikes enable longer journeys, vanquish hills, and enhance the ability to carry cargo (including children).

Users of electric bikes report using them as car replacements, which is great news for our climate response, with emission impacts of an e-bike around 1/100th of that of a standard internal combustion engine car.

Graph via Thinkstep.

But even with this exponential uptake, cost is consistently cited as the key barrier to e-bike adoption. So, given the LECF currently provides assistance for the purchase of electric cars and trucks, the most logical extension would have been to provide grant assistance for e-bikes in the same fashion.

[Editorial note: meanwhile, in Germany, e-cargo bikes for private, shared and commercial use are outselling electric cars, even with smaller subsidies.]

In May this year, I presented to the EV Leadership Group, including EECA’s CEO Andrew Caseley, and in July I met with EECA staff regarding the inclusion of e-bikes. Both meetings were very receptive to the concept, which makes EECA’s decision earlier this month all the more perplexing.

In the recently released criteria for future funding rounds, they’ve only included provision of “publicly available secure storage facilities” – so e-bike parking is eligible, but not e-bikes themselves.

This makes no sense. The biggest issue, and therefore the biggest opportunity, is the upfront cost of e-bikes.

Just to give a few examples that could have benefitted from e-bikes being eligible for the fund:

  • Subsidies to councils looking to trial first/last mile e-bike leases from bus/train stations – as substitutes for feeder bus services, which tend to suffer from low levels of patronage.
  • Grants to support proposed dockless shared e-bike schemes, like Bay Wheels in San Francisco or Smide in Zurich/Bern.
  • Council schemes for ‘e-bike trial’ fleets that companies/ organisations could trial for free so employees could test-ride the bikes on their commutes (as is the case in Swedish/UK e-bike-to-work schemes)

This government is looking for ways to signal that it’s serious about addressing the climate emergency and rapidly reducing emissions in the transport sector. Including e-bikes as vehicles in this funding was the perfect chance. With no review due till at least a year from now, the can has been kicked way down the road.

What a missed opportunity.

— Oliver Bruce

The Swiss e-bike share scheme Smide operates in Zurich and Bern (Image: Smide)

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