Scotland Is Subsidizing Electric Bikes to Encourage Sustainable and Active Travel

CC BY 2.0. A windshield view of Scotland/ Lloyd Alter

This is something North American governments should copy.

Scotland is a very hilly place. Sometimes it seems it is nothing but hills. I asked engineer and long-distance runner Es Tressider of Highland Passive why he moved there and he told me “for the hills.” It is often cold and wet and windy. On a recent visit I was almost blown off the roof of Duart Castle. The roads are impossibly narrow and scary and everyone drives on the wrong side.


An e-bike would have been nice here/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0Yet somehow, cold, windy, blustery, hilly Scotland finds the wherewithal to promote e-bikes. According to Kieran Howells Bikebiz, the Scottish government is investing £1.3 million (US$ 1.726 Million)to promote e-bikes.

This is counter-intuitive, given that when I asked in a recent post Why don't electric bikes get the kind of support that electric cars do? A commenter responded “Because bikes are of limited use in a country built on suburbia and cold wintery snowy climates.” The consensus was that nobody is going to use an e-bike if it is hilly and cold and windy or the distances are long. What are they thinking in Scotland?

According to Howells, half a million will be available as interest-free loans of up to £3,000 so that individuals and business can buy e-bikes and e-cargo bikes.

The e-bike Grant Fund will allocate £700,000 for local authorities, public sector agencies, community organisations, colleges and universities to encourage large-scale e-bike adoption. It is expected grants will fund e-bike pools, secure cycle parking and safety equipment.

This was all announced by Fergus Ewing, a cabinet secretary for “the Rural Economy and Connectivity”, a name that says it all to people who claim that e-bikes are an urban-only phenomenon.

These funds are the latest in a range of measures the Scottish Government is introducing to encourage sustainable and active travel. We want more people, who undertake shorter journeys, to leave their cars at home and go by bike for the benefit of their health and our environment.

E-bikes can be a great way of getting started with active travel as they offer as much assistance as the rider needs. They also make it easy for people to take heavy bags with them using panniers, trailers or by opting for an e-cargo bike in the first place.

We need this kind of thinking in North America, this realization that you do not need a car to do everything. Instead, we get the attitude that you can’t do things on a bike or e-bike that you can in a car. This is true, it is hard, but not impossible, to move a couch on a bike. But it’s hard in most cars too.

Then there is the pervasive attitude that somehow electric cars are better and different from gasoline powered cars. Even though we find that ultimately they take up as much space and are often just as problematic.

In along great post on Medium, Gary Kavanagh makes a strong case in favour of alternatives to the car. He is speaking about electric scooters which are being banned or limited, but his thoughts apply to e-bikes too:

We should not be trying to suppress speed capped light weight zero emission mobility that presents vastly less potential harm to others while being far more energy efficient than fully electric cars which expend most of their energy to carry dead weight and predominately empty seats as all cars do.

Many millions of dollars are being spent to subsidize electric cars, and nothing in North America for electric bikes while electric scooters get banned. How about a little balance here, like they have in Scotland. A small fraction of what is spent to promote electric cars could make a huge difference in the electric bike marketplace.