Electric bicycles - market research and investigation
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An electric bicycle is a bicycle with pedal support: you have to pedal yourself, but a battery provides assistance. Sales of electric bicycles in the Netherlands have increased considerably over the past few years. Little is known, however, about uses and prospects for electric bicycles in the Netherlands.
To gain more insight, both scientific literature and existing factual information about (electric) bicycle use have been studied and a market survey was conducted among current and potential users. Subsequently an investigation was conducted into the potential uses and possible consequences of a wide availability of electric bicycles in the Netherlands, from a mobility, health and environmental point of view.
Literature study into health effects It is known that regular cycling (commuting) reduces the risks of various chronic diseases and positively affects some risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. On the basis of the existing literature it is not yet possible to state whether these health effects will also be achieved by using electric bicycles. Two exploratory studies did demonstrate that electric cycling is likely to be sufficiently intensive to yield fitness and health benefits. Possible health benefits as in habitual commuting on conventional bicycles might therefore also occur when cycling electrically. On the basis of the existing literature it is also not possible to make pronouncements on the reasons why electric bikes are used. The international data on this subject can not be generalised to the Dutch situation.
Potential target groups for the use of an electric bicycle may be parents of young children and specific professional groups, besides commuters, the elderly and chronically ill.
Market research Respondents to an omnibus survey have been screened, among other factors for the possession of and interest in electric bicycles. Subsequently a random sample survey was conducted among approximately 1.600 people (electric bicycle owners, those that were interested or not in electric bicycles) who were invited to participate in a follow-up study. Overall 1.448 respondents have filled out a questionnaire investigating interest in and use of electric bicycles, including the effects of the electric bicycle on their transport behaviour. The results reveal that currently 3% possesses an electric bicycle and that over 40% is interested in this product. Possession is particularly popular among people aged 65 and over, but only to a limited degree among commuters. An electric bicycle is deemed mainly suitable for people with a physical handicap and the elderly. The electric bicycle is used in particular for recreational bicycle trips and shopping/errands. The use of the pedal support differs by aim. On average almost 40% of electric cyclists usually employs no or minimal pedal support, as compared to a quarter that usually engages the maximum pedal support. The electric bicycle has caused people to cycle faster, more often and over longer distances. In particular the standard bicycle and the car are now used less often. A majority of electric bicycle users feel authorities and employers should promote the use of electric bicycles.
Prospects The possible benefits for mobility, health and the environment have been estimated on the basis of the results of the aforementioned market survey and the available data on bicycle use in the Netherlands and its effects on mobility, health and the environment. It has been assumed that possession of electric bicycles in future will be as high as the possession of standard bicycles at present. Specific attention has been paid to two major target groups for electric bicycles: commuters and people aged 65 and over.
Mobility effects The distance commuters cover with an electric bicycle to get to work is one and a half times that of commuters on standard bicycles. On a standard bicycle the average distance is 6.3 kilometres, with an electric bicycle this increases to 9.8 kilometres, the market survey indicates. Currently bicycles are used for over half of all trips up to 4 kilometres. It is expected that in over half of all trips up to 6 kilometres the bicycle will be preferred if possession of electric bicycles will be as high in future as possession of standard bicycles is now.
In all likelihood the number of times the Dutch will use a bicycle will therefore increase by 3 to 5%. In particular for commuter traffic the expected rise will be higher, to wit between 4 and 9%, and this will be 3 to 4% in the group of the elderly. Due to the increase in the number of bicycle trips car use will slightly decrease. The effect is however too small to reduce congestion. In particular short car trips will be replaced by bicycles and any extra room on roads will entice other motorists to use their car more often. However, accessibility within towns may improve.
Health effects The estimate of health effects of the electric bicycle is based on two major themes in government prevention policies: promotion of a sufficient level of activity and prevention of obesity.
A healthy activity level (NNGB1) can be expected among commuters and the group of people over 65 that are interested. The overall increase in the percentage of adult Dutch who meet the above-mentioned standard activity level will be approximately 1%, on the basis of the market research results. When use of electric bicycles is promoted and possession in future is as high as possession of standard bicycles is now, the percentage may increase even more.
The increase in electric bicycle use will lead to the burning of extra calories. Whereas usually the average weight of adult Dutch increases by 0.5 kilogram annually, it is possible to prevent approximately 0.05 to 0.1 kilograms of this increase in body weight for commuters by using an electric bicycle. In this way electric bicycles may potentially prevent 20% of the annual weight increase. Promoting commuting by electric bicycle can therefore assist in achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight.
Environmental effects Each kilometre by electric bicycle instead of car or public transport leads to a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. More bicycle trips means approximately 70 grams less CO2 emission per kilometre cycled. Overall this may lead at best to a reduction of approximately 110 to 280 kilotons of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. Although this is but a fraction of overall emissions in the Netherlands, it is not negligible. The effect is comparable to reducing the emissions of all cars in the Netherlands by one or several grams for each kilometre driven.
It should be remarked that with the wide availability of electric bicycles attention also needs to be paid to traffic safety, as higher speeds may cause more accidents. Moreover, due to the increase in bicycle use, cyclists are exposed more to polluted air and the increase in the number of electric bicycles in traffic may have implications for infrastructure (including construction of more bicycle (express) routes, an increased need of guarded bicycle parking facilities and battery charging stations).
The conclusion may be drawn that promoting the use of electric bicycles may positively affect mobility, health and the environment. The Dutch will cycle more often and longer. This will probably not lead to less congestion, but will result in better accessibility. More Dutch will meet the NNGB and they will also gain weight at a lower pace. And finally a net positive effect can be expected on climate change, due to reduction of CO2 emission.
As stated before, these estimates assume a maximum effect, where possession of electric bicycles in future will be as high as possession of standard bicycles now. The actual size of the effect is dependent on the degree to which electric bicycles will become accepted in the Netherlands and among which target groups this will occur.