PowerShift grants – available for cars, but not bikes

   Giant Lafree Electric Bike
DfT Grant Available
Jeep Grand Cherokee LPG
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
16 miles per gallon
17.8 litres per 100 kilometres
Giant Lafree*
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
1,450 miles per gallon
0.196 litres per 100 kilometres

Ever heard of PowerShift? For some reason, the authorities like to keep it a bit quiet – it’s actually a government-funded scheme to encourage the use of alternative fuelled road vehicles by refunding a sizeable chunk of the purchase cost. Electric, Compressed Natural Gas (NGV), Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Hybrid Fuels… all offer better emissions than conventional petrol or diesel cars, but being rarer and more complex, tend to cost more, so PowerShift is a useful, if rather elaborate, scheme to get more owners on board and help to pull down purchase prices.Typical grants (12,000 have been distributed to date) are around £1,000 a time.

A few months ago, David Janner-Klausner of Transport 2000 asked us whether we had considered campaigning for electric bicycles to be included. Fully-powered electric motorbikes have now joined the scheme, but the Department for Transport refuses to consider electrically-assisted bicycles because:

…people who may have purchased normal bicycles would, if grants were available, choose an electric version instead.This would, of course, lead to a net increase in transport emission levels.

According to all the evidence we’ve seen, this is patent rubbish and typical of the official view that one is either a cyclist (and thus, irredeemably glued to two wheels) or a motorist – ie, a class of person who would never consider riding a two-wheeled machine.

On the contrary, there is a growing body of evidence that electric bicycles can kick- start a pronounced shift from car use. According to the Powabyke/Leeds University survey (see A to B 26), 26% of daily commuters, and 34% of those undertaking general A to B trips, would otherwise have used a car. Another important finding from this survey was that electric bikes get more use than conventional bikes, and tend to be used for more ‘serious’ – ie, non-leisure – journeys.

…it seems absurd that grants are available for… the Jaguar X Type and …

In any event, statistics can be misleading.The Henshaw family could be said to have transferred from bicycle to electric bicycle for some journeys, but these days – travelling 24 hilly miles each week towing a child trailer – we feel the need for some assistance. Had an electric bike not been available, we might well have been tempted to turn up at Alexander’s playgroup by car, just like everyone else. Electric bicycles are actually quite good at replacing the sort of short car journeys that everyone agrees should be shifted to other modes. Just the job for grant aid, surely?

Faced with this sort of evidence, the Energy Savings Trust – which runs PowerShift on behalf of the Department for Transport – caved in, but in a reply to David Janner-Klausner, made it clear that there would be no grants on electric bicycles. According to Matthew Robinson of the Energy Saving Trust:

I have looked into the matter further, and have established that our main funders (Department for Transport) decreed that only registered road vehicles are eligible for grant funding.Therefore vehicles such as fork-lift trucks, ones used at airports, and also electric push bikes are not eligible for funding.

Having read your arguments, I agree that purely on an emissions basis, if we were considering funding electric scooters then we should also consider funding electric push bikes. Unfortunately as I indicated above this would not be allowed under DfT rules.

It seems absurd that grants are only available for the 114 vehicles listed on the PowerShift register, particularly as 95 of them are using an alternative form of petroleum (LPG), and the list includes such world renowned gas guzzlers as the Jaguar X Type, BMW 5 Series and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Indeed, as LPG vehicles generally return fewer miles per gallon than their petrol-powered equivalents, we’d suggest that PowerShift is using tax-payer’s money to increase fossil fuel consumption. Only the DfT can change the rules… gentle pressure could make all the difference.

For further details, contact David Janner-Klausner, Policy Officer, Good Practice Unit,Transport 2000, The Impact Centre, 12-18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG Tel: 020 7613 0743 ex.116