Impact of electric bicycles on personal mobility 2018

The phenomenon of electric bicycles 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 in bicycles, paving the way to the rise of popularity of electric bicycles within cities of moderate climate countries. Electric bicycles 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 electric bicycle mobility in Israel as a case study for a country, where electric bicycles have earned grand popularity.

The number of electric bicycles in Israel had been negligible until 2010, then rapidly rising in sales. The peak of sales has so far been reached in 2014, with almost 73 thousand units sold country-wide within a calendar year. After the peak, the demand for electric bicycles seems to have stabilized around 20-30 thousand new units annually, with 26 thousand units imported in 2016 and a similar number in 2017. In comparison, as of 2016 national private vehicle sales in Israel were at 285 thousand units (119 thousand net addition).

As of late 2017, an estimated 250 thousand electric bicycles were in use throughout Israel. It was still quite short of almost 2.9 million private cars, but had considerably surpassed the number of conventional bicycles in the country and began showing direct competition with fuel-powered scooters and light motorcycles. Interestingly, the concept of electric scooters has not gained sufficient success in comparison to electric bicycles - probably due to requirement of driving license and a higher price tag.

Figure 1. Annual imports of electric bicycles to Israel (blue) and estimated cumulative number of electric bicycles in the country (red) during 2010-17.

After quickly surpassing the ratio of biomechanical bicycles and fuel-powered scooters, electric bicycles are evidently becoming a dominant player at the personal mobility landscape of an urban environment. In fact, in the Israeli case it is possible to quantify the contribution of electric bicycles to personal mobility means, knowing the passenger capacity and typical mileage of electric bicycles, 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, electric bicycles 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, electric bicycles have succeeded to gain about 1.1% of personal mobility share (passenger x km/year) in Israel as of 2017, mainly on the expense of private cars, public transport and scooters. It is reasonable to assume that despite stabilization of electric bicycle sales, their share 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 electric 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 electric bicycles, as seen following the 2015 tightening of regulations in Israel.