17 August, 2017   By: Courtney Pearson

A few years ago, you may not have even heard of ebikes let alone seen someone riding around on one, aside from the occasional early adopter who had forked out a small fortune for the pleasure of an easier ride.

Things have quickly changed. Ebikes today are tipped as a fast growing trend, offering commuters an attractive and easier ride and a genuine alternative to peak hour traffic.

In a case of leading by example, in WA it’s the local councils who are at the forefront of getting people onto ebikes for a trial run, and in the process, creating converts who are sticking with their ebike well after the trial has finished.

Over the past couple of years, more than a dozen councils have taken part in trials, using their own staff as the 'guinea pigs', along with State Government departments, UWA and QEII. All the trials have been supported by RAC who ran one of the first ebike trials in WA with its staff in 2015. 

A group of cyclists riding ebikes
RAC Regional ebike trial participants taking the ebikes for a spin in Albany

“Local governments have been working for decades to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of walking, cycling and public transport,” says Julie McMinn, program co-ordinator of the Switch Your Thinking Initiative.

Electric bikes provide another option. They make active transport more feasible across long distances, in hilly areas, and for people who may not be able to easily ride a traditional bike.”

Ebikes pass the test

Although it might seem ambitious to convince employees to give up their cars, the results of the Switched on Bikes campaign initiated by the City of Gosnells suggest otherwise.

Staff from six councils, including the Cities of Gosnells, Belmont, Perth, Armadale and Wanneroo and Town of Victoria Park were encouraged to use ebikes to commute to and from work and to meetings over a six trial week period in 2016 and 2017.

More than 4300km were covered by ebikes over the trials, saving more than 855kg of carbon. Nearly 80 per cent of the trial participants chose to take an ebike rather than their car and 85 per cent tried riding one to work.

 A group of new ebike users listening to an instructor

RAC Regional ebike trial participants receiving cycle skills training

Post trial they were so keen to keep on riding the ebikes that the Town of Victoria Park is buying a fleet of ebikes for ongoing use.

Given the number of enquiries we’ve had as to when the bikes are going to be arriving, I hold out a lot of hope that they’ll get used as much, if not more so, than during the trial,” says Town of Victoria Park Environmental Officer Brendan Nock. 

Other councils are following suit with the City of Canning borrowing ebikes for its own trial in order to put together a business case to buy their own fleet for staff.

Meanwhile, councils like the City of Vincent and City of Fremantle are extending ebikes to residents through free ebike loan services.

Two riders outside an RAC centre
Chris Thompson from the Department of Sport and Recreation and Sam Stevens from the City of Albany with their ebikes

Powering Albany

WA’s regions are also on board, with hilly Albany the latest success story.

There was no shortage of staff volunteers at the City of Albany and Department of Sport and Recreation, with the trial flooded by more hopeful applicants than ebikes available.

Over 10 weeks, the 20 participants used their ebikes to commute to work and get around. RAC General Manager of Public Policy Anne Still said for some it was the first time they had been back on a bike in years.

"Before the trial, none of the participants reported cycling to work but almost half of the commuting trips made during the trial were by ebike. What was also very positive was that this high level of cycling was sustained following the trial, with an impressive 57 per cent of commuting made by ebike and regular bicycle." 

An infographic describing travel before and after an ebike trial

By the end of the trial, more than 1,100 ebike trips had been taken. When combined with the findings from a previous RAC ebike trial in Perth, over the trial periods 34 out of 60 participants reported having saved money, equating to an average of $530 each.

The benefits weren’t limited to financial savings, with many participants reporting commuting by ebike made them feel less stressed and healthier.

“One participant came to work excited that she saw ducks and ducklings that morning," says City of Albany TravelSmart officer Julie Passmore.

“She said she never would’ve seen that if she’d been in her car. It really helped staff to engage with the community and the infrastructure.”

Even though the trial is over, Passmore says many of the participants are still riding ebikes and the City of Albany is now allowing staff to salary sacrifice when purchasing an ebike.

“Once they had a go, they thought it was one of the best things they’d ever tried,” says Passmore.

 Two ebike riders at the top of a hill in Albany
City of Albany employees Fiona Stevenson (L) and Sue-Ellen Shaw enjoying their commute

A more connected WA

Cycling isn't just a great way to get around and stay fit and healthy, it also helps tackle traffic congestion and harmful vehicle emissions. Find out more about how RAC is working to support cycling as part of a more connected WA.

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