An innovative new research project examining how e-bikes can change transport behaviours to improve health and protect the environment has been launched at University of Limerick.
ISCycle (Inclusive e-bike uptake and Sustainable use) was launched by UL President Professor Kerstin Mey this Friday.
Funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Department of Transport as part of the SEAI National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Funding Programme, ISCycle is led by Dr James Green, School of Allied Health and Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, Health Research Institute, UL.
The research team, working across physical activity, health psychology, sustainable engineering and economics, will examine how an e-bike loan could impact the overwhelming dominance of the private car, which accounts for nearly three quarters of all journeys made in Ireland, according to the 2019 CSO National Travel Survey.
ISCycle will be rolled out in phases across workplace settings in Limerick City, beginning with UL as the first study site. The study will continue throughout 2023 and 2024, with preliminary findings available early next year.
UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said: “The potential for e-bike ownership to replace private car-trips is promising but needs to be examined in the Irish context. As a research-led institution, this is another fantastic initiative, and we are excited that the first study will be taking place on the UL campus.
“As well as conducting research on behaviour change using e-bikes, the project will leverage prior Smarter Travel investment in Limerick and aligns with UL’s Sustainability Framework 2030, so there is great collaboration there.
“I am interested to see also that the research will examine the gender gap in active travel. This is research that will have real life impact and aligns with our strategic goal as an institution to be a leader in addressing global challenges,” Professor Mey added.
The ISCycle project has been designed as an inclusive cycling intervention. Participants in the research study will be loaned an e-bike for 4-12 weeks while their use of different transport modes is measured.
“They will be expected to cycle more and drive less than people who are not loaned an e-bike and we will be trying to understand the environmental implications of growing e-bike ownership in Ireland,” explained Dr James Green.
“Scientists, engineers, and economists on the team will study the impact on electrical waste recycling systems and long-term consequences for a circular economy. E-bikes can reduce congestion, reduce CO2 emissions, and increase physical activity. They have advantages over other forms of electric micro mobility such as scooters, due to their ability to carry cargo and people, and contribute to physical activity targets.
“Compared to electrics cars, e-bikes are cheaper, more resource efficient, and do not contribute to congestion,” Dr Green added.
The ISCycle project will also target direct health benefits through increased physical activity. Assistance from the electric motor on an e-bike can increase opportunities for active travel among people who need to cover longer distances, carry passengers and heavy cargo, or cycle through hilly areas.
National reports show that most people in Ireland rely on the car for transport, even for short journeys. ISCycle is promoting more sustainable modes of transport in Limerick City.
Inclusive cycling programmes should give people the equipment they need to support more sustainable transport behaviours. ISCycle will provide a selection of different e-bikes, including folding e-bikes that can be easily stored inside the home or carried onto public transport, and cargo e-bikes that can be used to transport passengers or groceries.
Study participants will be offered cycling accessories such as raingear, child seats and bike trailers, and cycling skills training will be provided.
“Materially, e-bikes are less resource intensive than cars, however their functionality depends on batteries and motors,” explained Dr Green.
“Both contain critical raw materials and require appropriate treatment at end-of-life. E-bike product lifetime can be optimised through repair, repurpose and recycling. Facilitating the e-bike transition necessitates a circular economy for e-bikes and their components, which will also be studied by the ISCycle team.”
Kerrie Sheehan, Head of Research and Technology at SEAI, said: “Decarbonising transport is essential to achieving our climate and energy targets. We look forward to the learnings and insights that this research project will bring, to inform future policy and ultimately to lead to emissions savings.”
The research will produce evidence-based guidance on e-bike loans that will be relevant for active travel and sustainable transport policy in Ireland.
This project has been supported with financial contribution from the Department of Transport and the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland under the SEAI National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Funding Programme 2021 (Grant Number 21/RDD/736).