The Missing Piece in the Urban Transportation Infrastructure Jigsaw

Richard Jordan, CEO at Super Soco UK and CEO at GreenMo UK, explores the missing piece in the move towards sustainable transport in the UK.

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last that can do anything about it”. This was the call to action from the WWF’s 2018 manifesto asking the world to take action and accountability for the sake of future generations.

Fast forward to COP26, and Boris Johnson warned that the world is at “one minute to midnight”, having run down the clock on waiting to combat climate change. We are not moving fast enough in the race against global warming, and yet both policymakers and individuals have the power to change this. With transportation responsible for 24% of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, action to reduce this impact needs to gather pace.

Our cities are becoming smarter and the push for greener transport is apparent both in the UK and the rest of the world. By the end of 2021, it’s projected that one-in-ten new cars in the UK will be electric, and the global sales of electric scooters and bicycles are expected to reach 129 million units by 2028 – but we are missing a crucial piece of the urban transportation jigsaw.

Mind the gap

We are all aware of the need for a mindset change to avoid cars for short journeys and commuting, with the U.K. set to ban the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles from 2030 and the introduction of clean air zones this year. However, with the average cost to buy an electric car in the UK coming in at around £44,000, we need a solution to provide alternative mobility rather than relying on electric and hybrid cars.

With an expanding population, there will be less room and manoeuvrability for everyone to be able to own a car. This issue coupled with the decrease in people passing their driving test has left a missing piece in the urban transportation jigsaw.

People living in cities are finding it harder to secure safe and easy personal transport. As we emerge from the pandemic with a limited return of the night tube, and a general reluctance in using public transport, people are looking to services like Uber and Bolt to fill the gap. However, with price surges and the steady decline in available taxi drivers, the limitations of city transport infrastructure is severely lacking a cheap, safe solution.

The UK is late to the micro-mobility game with many European cities having long ago introduced shared mobility schemes for electric mopeds and motorcycles as part of their micro-mobility solution. To address this missing piece, the UK has looked to follow direction from other countries by implementing e-scooters in cities such as London.

However, a study commissioned by Transport for London indicates that riding an e-scooter could be 100 times more dangerous than riding a bicycle. With problems with both legality and safety, it’s clear that unlike other countries, the UK is yet to find a suitable alternative.

The popularity of rented electric scooters in cities shows the demand for personal transport that is green, cost-effective, and safe. Forward-thinking electric motorbikes, both personal and shared, are a crucial addition to the micro-mobility solution.

But, given the recent changes the UK government has made to the Plug-in vehicle Grant rates and the drastic reduction of 90% of the grant, the UK government must change their electric motorbike legislation so this mode of transportation can reach its potential.

Breath In Deep

Following the recent agreements and plans laid out at the latest UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), there has been a significant push to control city emissions and increase air quality within cities, such as the expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ). We need to get cars out of our cities.

Whilst many people have turned to public transport to combat emissions, it is obvious that this isn’t the solution for everyone. Unreliable buses and trains within major UK cities and the COVID pandemic has bought about an increased awareness of safety in close quarters.

As people become more COVID conscious and seek to limit their contact with other people, commuters are searching for an easy, independent option which means they won’t have to travel on a poorly ventilated public transport.

The introduction of clean air zones has indicated the gradual switch to cleaner and more sustainable vehicles to combat rising CO2 emissions and combat the rise in air-pollution related deaths. As of 2020, an estimated one-in-nineteen UK deaths were as a result of air pollution, totalling to roughly 36,000 deaths that year. This is nearly a third of the number of deaths related to COVID – and these numbers will only rise.

On average an electric motorbike produces 7.5g/km CO2 and electric cars around 35g/km. This figure exists due to the electricity produced to charge the vehicles, however, this could be lowered if this was generated via renewable means. As more people switch to electric motorbikes for their city transportation, air quality in major cities will improve due to the decrease in CO2 emissions. Saving money and the planet!

When people are considering purchasing a new car, ease and simplicity are one of their highest requirements. Whilst UK car sales have plunged in recent months, the sale of electric vehicles has soared to record-breaking numbers with nearly 33,000 pure electric cars being registered a month, which is hardly surprising amidst the recent fuel crisis.

These sales figures are almost 50% higher than in 2019. Whilst electric cars boast of their absence of road tax and the estimated savings of £850 a year on fuel, the rising costs are significantly higher when compared to other EV options.

Electric motorcycles are also significantly cheaper than electric cars, with prices starting from just £2,250. Given the recent announcement that the cost of living has surged at its fastest pace in almost 10 years and the increase in fuel prices over the past few months, a cheaper option of an electric motorbike is the future of EVs.

Shared mobility schemes will become more popular as more accessible, practical modes of transport become available. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s Wheels 2 Work scheme is an example of how affordable electric motorbikes can benefit the community.

The project has helped more than 150 people across the Tees Valley who do not have easy access to public transport or a private vehicle secure affordable transport, so they can get to their job or education. The service, which is continuing to March 2021, is to provide 75 electric motorbikes which are expected to help 400 people across the region access jobs.

As the urban transportation infrastructure moves into 2022, the modality of personal transport is the missing piece of this jigsaw and by introducing electric motorbikes and mopeds, the UK can shift towards a greener future.

In the UK’s mission to build a smart transportation infrastructure, electric motorbikes are paving the way for EV domination within cities. With Generation Z turning away from cars, the old status quo is not applicable to the future. The UK must turn away from its tunnel vision and embrace electric motorbikes as a natural alternative to the busy underground, unaffordable Ubers, and problematic e-scooters.