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e-bikes could slash transport emissions

01 December, 2023

e-bikes could slash transport emissions

Jillian Anable

Kay Jenkinson

Aidan O’Sullivan

Case study   Transport & Mobility

Ian Philips, Jillian Anable and Kay Jenkinson

Reducing carbon emissions from transport remains a significant challenge for the UK if it wants to meet its net-zero target. Energy use from transport has increased by 16% since 1990 against a UK economy-wide decrease in energy use of 4%, and the sector remains 98% dependent on fossil fuels.

Research conducted by Dr Ian Philips and Prof Jillian Anable (CREDS Transport & Mobility theme lead) suggested that electrically-assisted bikes (e-bikes) have the capability to replace enough car journeys to cut carbon dioxide emissions from car use by around 24 million tonnes per year in England.

The greatest opportunities for reducing emissions were found in rural and sub-urban settings: city dwellers already have many low-carbon travel options, so the largest impact would be on encouraging use outside urban areas with particular potential to cut the vast number of car journeys that are between 5 and 15 miles.

Moreover, the research showed the scope for e-bikes to help people who are most affected by rising transport costs. Incentivising e-bikes for use in areas characterised by: low-incomes, limited access to public transport; and high car dependence would create other opportunities. Alongside carbon savings, co-benefits for these communities could include improving the mobility of low-income households and enhancing access to services and employment.

Leading with the carbon emissions finding, CREDS shared the story – via news release – with contacts in national and trade/specialist media (e.g. cycling magazines). Colleagues in the University of Leeds press office liaised with their regional news outlets. The briefing launch was also promoted via Twitter.

The BBC ran the story with coverage online and an item on Radio 4’s 6pm news programme. It was also referenced in online cycling websites in the UK and internationally: Australia, Italy, USA, India, Spain and Norway.

To share the briefing more widely, we contacted c.60 organisations and individuals with an interest in energy, climate and transport. This included cycling organisations (Cycling UK), policymakers (Department for Transport, Committee on Climate Change), local government (Local Government Association) and other agencies (National Parks).

The briefing has been downloaded 582 times and has been one of the most popular pages on the CREDS website with over 5,400 unique views.

The report is being used as evidence and referenced by key policymakers, including the Department for Transport and the Committee on Climate Change.

The International Transport Forum also referencedOpens in a new tab this work, and requested the creation of a map by the authors visualising the potential impact of ebikes on carbon emissions in the North for a further report (pdf)Opens in a new tab(p35).

The final published paper is one of the most downloaded papers within the transport policy section, according to Elsevier, and has attracted more than 40 citations.

Some real-word impacts from the research have also emerged. An independent transport consultant, Alisdair Kirkbride, read about the paper in the course of his work and noted in particular the big potential of ebikes in urban and peri-urban areas. He and a colleague, Isobel Stoddart, went on to set up a community-run ebike schemeOpens in a new tab in Staveley, Cumbria. Although the scheme is on a small scale, it is an example of a scheme set up and run by a community in pursuit of sustainability, rather than technological entrepreneurs focused on making a profit. Alistair and Isobel went on to create guidance (pdf)Opens in a new tab for others who want to follow in their footsteps, referencing the ebikes paper in their work.

Ian Philips , the lead author, went on to present an invited keynote at a workshop at Chalmers University in  Sweden in December 2022, focusing on population synthesis and sustainable transport where he explained his research methods. Using a computer programme, Ian generated 50m synthetic individuals modelled on the characteristics of the people in every neighbourhood in England. From this he and his team estimated how far people could ride on an e-bike, to maximise energy demand reduction, rather than predicting use based on the current choices people make.

Following on from this work, Ian Philips  carried out a survey in the Lake District asking about e-bike use as part of his ESRC-funded early career fellowship. A research paper based on the project is currently in review (as of November 2023). Ian continues to apply his expertise in this area as Principal Investigator of the £1.7m Elevate project, with Jillian Anable, Noel Cass and Sally Cairns also involved, investigating the decarbonisation potential of e-cargo bikes and other e-micromobility with the first analysis of the data due soon. Please check the Elevate websiteOpens in a new tab for future updates.

Project team

Sources of information


Thanks very much for alerting us to this research. It’s of great interest to us, given that we promote e-bikes for both health and environmental reasons. Cycling UK

Publication details

Anable, J. and Jenkinson, K. 2020. e-bikes could slash transport emissions. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK. CREDS case study.

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash