Belfast Telegraph

How economy could benefit from closing loophole on e-bikes

Those who cycle to work are fitter, healthier, happier, and less likely to take sick days
Those who cycle to work are fitter, healthier, happier, and less likely to take sick days

By Anne Madden, Policy and Communications Manager, Sustrans

It's that time of year when lots of economic forecasts are made. One of the more exciting was a report from Deloitte that e-bikes are set to grow in popularity and could soon overtake other modes of transport.

Deloitte predicts that more than 130 million e-bikes will be sold globally over the next three years, with commuters opting for e-bikes as they make cycling less of a physical effort and the battery technology is improving.

There is one caveat to this - Northern Ireland.

Due to a legal anomaly that was not closed before Stormont collapsed, anyone who purchases an e-bike here must register it with DVLNI, tax and insure it like a motorbike.

The PSNI have suggested they may 'turn a blind eye' to anyone using an e-bike without tax and insurance, but for those who prefer to stay within the law, it creates an unnecessary barrier.

We, at Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity, embarrassingly fell foul of this situation when we purchased a fleet of 12 e-bikes for a project to tackle air pollution in Belfast.

After waiting two years for an Assembly to be resurrected to bring the law into line with the rest of the UK, we decided in the end to send them to our colleagues to use in Cardiff.

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Belfast's loss is Cardiff's gain. Employees who cycle to work are fitter, healthier, happier, and less likely to take sick days.

Absenteeism is a particular blight on our public sector dominated economy; as the Belfast Telegraph reported in June, Northern Ireland councils have the highest absenteeism rates in the UK. Our survey of people who cycle on the National Cycle Network found that they take nearly half as many sick days as the average UK worker.

Astonishing research carried out by the University of Glasgow discovered that cycling commuters almost halve their risk of developing cancer or heart disease.

E-bikes are a great first step to get commuters more active, for those less able or who live in hillier areas.

Employers also benefit from reduced car parking costs. Companies can make an annual saving of £2,000 per car parking space reduced.

Traffic congestion costs the UK economy £7.9bn a year by preventing the movement of goods and services.

Imagine how much space would be created on our roads if we replaced all those single-occupant cars with cycles?

There is also the cost to the environment and our health.

More than 4,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are saved annually in Belfast alone by the small percentage of people who cycle; while long-term exposure to air pollution contributes to 141 early adult deaths in the city each year.

Another Deloitte survey found the 'millennials' (those born after 1983) who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, think their employer should be doing more to reduce their impact on the environment.

Therefore, employers wanting to encourage staff to cycle should consider the Cycle-friendly Employer Accreditation Scheme or contact Sustrans on 028 90434569, to find out how we can work with you to help your staff travel actively.

Our optimistic forecast is that the New Year will bring back an Assembly which will help us all get on our bikes - electric or otherwise.

Belfast Telegraph