This study was carried out as part of the EPSRC-funded LC TRANSFORMS project and aimed for exploring the potential of electric bike (e-bike) to empower future mobility solutions in the UK through a better understanding of 1) how e-bikes were used in China and the UK; 2) how users evaluate their experience; 3) what went wrong in China; 4) can shared e-bike schemes remove some barriers to encourage more cycling in the UK. A large population of e-bike/e-scooter users and a newly launched e-bike sharing scheme in Nanjing enabled the street-intercept survey method to be adopted. Responses were received from 319 e-bike and scooter users with an average age of 35. However, in the UK, the number of e-bike users is still low which led to only 30 completed responses to the online questionnaire survey, 10 e-bike users and 20 c-bike users with an average age of 55. Four focus groups were therefore introduced to the investigation of 1) why people cycle; 2) what are the key barriers; 3) what need to be done to encourage more people cycle; 4) will e-bike be the answer? In total, 24 people (21 were members of Voice North) aged over 50 participated in the focus group discussions.
Results from the survey in China revealed that 44% of respondents shifted away from driving and 32% from public transport to e-bike/scooter as their main transport mode. The main reasons were “allow door-to-door journeys”, “avoid stuck in traffic jam” and “easy to park”. When in comparison with conventional bike (c-bike), “quicker” and “less effort to ride” were highlighted. “Safe parking at destinations” was the major concern regarding whether to cycle or not. Journey durations ranged from 1 minute to 4 hours with an average of 23 minutes per trip. In terms of commuting, the average journey duration was about the same as driving and 60% if using public transport. Statistic tests revealed no difference between e-bike users and e-scooter users among the above factors. However, Chinese government has decided to cap the number of shared bikes and to rule out shared e-bike schemes due to the following reasons:
Results from the UK indicated that the main reasons for cycling were “healthier”, “more enjoyable” and “allowing door-to-door journey” and “easy to park”. E-bike users also highlighted “less effort to ride” in comparison with riding a c-bike. Decisions on whether or not to cycle could be influenced by traffic, weather or air quality, depended on what bike was used. Moreover, UK respondents tended to cycle for longer duration than their Chinese counterpart, with an average of 74 minutes (e-bike users) and 135 minutes (c-bike users) for their longest trip, and 26 minutes (e-bike users) and 55 minutes (c-bike users) for their typical trip. The focus group discussions demonstrated that, although participants were fully aware of the health benefits and evaluated their experience as “wonderful”, “playful”, “feeling young again” and with “great pleasure”, they were extremely concerned about their safety if riding in traffic. Many of them reported that they would only ride their bike on cycle lanes and never went/would go on the road. The key barriers to more cycling were identified as below:
We are aware that the UK sample size is rather small. However, the focus group discussions have yielded in-depth understanding that could not be achieved through a questionnaire survey. A larger sample size cover a wider demographic may be used to confirm our following recommendations:
During the survey, observations were also taking place in Nanjing. Whilst e-bike/e-scooters are delivering convenience to everyday travel, the chaotic behaviour on the road needs to be tackled urgently. Policy interventions in China have played a critical role in promoting public bike sharing schemes and encouraged more cycling. Relevant legislations should be introduced to regulate cycling behaviour to improve the safety and traffic efficiency. For the UK, lessons should be learnt from such a practice if more e-bikes are to be introduced and promoted.