Impact of electric bikes on personal mobility 2017

The phenomenon of electric bicycles (e-bikes) has developed in metropolitan environments during the past decade, becoming a disruptive element in urban transportation. The advent of this transportation tool is largely attributed to the newly available and affordable Li-ion technology battery package, though other battery types such as Pb-acid and NiMH are also utilized. The rapid price reduction of Li-ion cells and batteries led to their integration with electric assistance motors into bicycles, paving the way to the rise of popularity of e-bikes in the cities of moderate climate countries. E-bikes are utilized for various transport and delivery applications by a variety of age groups and professions and slowly turning into a mainstream means of urban transport, urging municipalities to properly adjust the infrastructures. This study explores and analyzes the status of e-bike mobility in Israel as a case study for a country, where e-bikes have earned grand popularity.

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The number of e-bikes in Israel had been negligible until 2010, then rapidly rising in sales to levels, seen in the automotive industry. The peak of sales has so far been reached in 2014, with almost 73 thousand units sold country-wide. In comparison, national private vehicle sales in Israel was at 285 thousand units in 2016. After the peak, the demand for e-bikes seems to have stabilized around 20-30 thousand units annually. As of early 2017, an estimated 225 thousand e-bikes were in use throughout Israel. It was still quite short of over 2.4 million private cars, but has considerably surpassed the number of conventional bicycles in the country and has begun showing direct competition to fuel-powered scooters and light motorcycles, which were at 124 thousand units as of 2014. Interestingly, the concept of electric scooters has not gained sufficient success in comparison to e-bikes - probably due to requirement of driving license and a higher price tag.

Figure 1. Annual imports of e-bikes to Israel (blue) and the cumulative number of e-bikes in the country (red) during 2010-16.

After quickly surpassing the ratio of biomechanical bicycles and fuel-powered scooters, e-bikes are evidently becoming a dominant player at the personal mobility landscape - especially in urban environment. In fact, it is fairly easy to quantify the contribution of e-bikes to personal mobility means, knowing the passenger capacity and typical mileage of e-bikes, scooters and cars. While personal cars reach 16,300 km/year average range with 1.1-1.2 typical passenger capacity, scooters do 7,200 km/year with 1.0-1.1 passenger capacity, e-bikes and conventional bicycles make roughly 2,500 km/year and 1,100 km/year respectively and both have a 1.0 passenger capacity.

In summary, e-bikes have succeeded to gain 1.0% of personal mobility share (passenger x km/year) in Israel within just a few years, mainly on the expense of private cars and scooters. It is reasonable to assume that despite stabilization of e-bike sales, their use for personal mobility purposes would continue to rise in the coming years - eventually to take several percent of personal mobility share in terms of passengers x km/year. Further rise of e-bike utilization is pending development of urban infrastructures, such as bicycle lanes and bicycle parking slots in line with additional decline in battery pricing. On the other hand, increased regulation could slow down the uptrend and possibly even arrest the popularity of e-bikes, as seen following the 2015 tightening of regulations in Israel.