We get in the car to buy groceries or take kids to school. Although the car is comfortable, these short trips add up in terms of emissions, pollution and gas costs.
Almost half (44%) of all Australian commutes are by car – and the distance is less than 10km. Of Perth’s 4.2 million daily car journeys, 2.8 are for distances of less than 2km.
This is common in wealthier countries. In the United States, a staggering 60% of all car trips are less than 10 km.
So what is the best solution? You might think switching to an electric vehicle would be the natural step. In fact, for short trips, an electric bike or moped might be better for you – and for the planet. This is because these means of transport – collectively referred to as electric micromobility – are cheaper to purchase and operate.
But there’s more: They actually displace four times as much oil as all electric cars currently in the world, thanks to their astonishing prevalence in China and other countries where mopeds are a common form of transportation.
How can that be?
There were over 20 million electric vehicles and 1.3 million commercial electric vehicles such as buses, vans and trucks on the world’s roads last year.
But this number of vehicles with four or more wheels is completely dwarfed by two- and three-wheelers. Last year there were over 280 million electric mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and tricycles on the road.
Their sheer popularity is already reducing demand for oil by a million barrels of oil per day – about 1% of total global oil demand, according to estimates from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
What about electric vehicles, you ask? Finally, electric vehicles are considered a panacea for car emissions and air pollution in cities because their exhaust emissions are zero. When they are charged with renewable electricity, they become even more environmentally friendly.
But viewing them as an indisputable good is a mistake. They are cleaner cars, but they are still cars that take up space on the roads and require a lot of electricity to power them. Because of their batteries, they are heavier than a traditional car and make heavy use of rare earth mining. While electric vehicles are overall much more environmentally friendly than internal combustion engine cars, battery manufacturing can negate some of the benefits.
On the positive side, petrol cars cost around 0.14 Australian dollars per kilometer of fuel, which equates to around $1,820 in fuel per year for an average car with a mileage of 12,000 km. Maintenance costs average $910 per year, for a total of $2,730 for a gasoline car.
In contrast, charging an electric vehicle for that distance would cost about $480. With maintenance costs of $240, the annual operating cost is $720. Therefore, electric vehicles are much cheaper to operate. But they are expensive to buy.
What are the advantages of electric mopeds and bicycles?
The electric mobility revolution is a great opportunity to rethink how we move through our cities – and whether we even need a car.
After all, cars often only have one occupant. They use a lot of energy to move.
In contrast, electric mopeds and bicycles use significantly less energy to transport one or two people. They are also significantly cheaper to purchase and operate than electric cars.
If you commute 20 km a day, five days a week, on an e-bike, your charging costs will be about $20 per year.
In Australia, electric bikes are rapidly evolving from a leisure activity to a serious urban transport option. Last year over 100,000 e-bikes were sold here.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be using electric mopeds or bicycles to travel from Sydney to Melbourne. Their real value lies in short journeys – the school run, the milk and bread run or even commuting – where they take about the same time or less than a car.
Smaller electric options like scooters and skateboards also offer a way to overcome the last mile problem that plagues public transportation systems. In short, it is the inconvenient distance between your home and the train or bus stop. Being able to cover this distance quickly can be crucial for public transport.
If electric micromobility is implemented, it can reduce urban emissions. A study of e-scooter riders in the UK found that these rides produced up to 45% less carbon dioxide than alternative rides.
US researchers estimate that transportation emissions would fall by about 7% if e-bike trips were expanded to 11% of all vehicle trips.
As gasoline prices rise and battery prices fall, the cheaper operating costs of electric vehicles and even cheaper operating costs of electric mopeds, bikes and scooters will continue to erode oil demand.
According to the International Energy Agency, global oil demand is now expected to peak at 105.7 million barrels per day in 2028 – and then begin to decline.
Electric vehicles will play a role in reducing oil demand. But it may well be that electric micromobility will reduce demand more quickly, given how quickly these cheaper and more extensive options are being adopted.
What does that mean for me?
If you’re looking to switch to electric, it’s worth taking a close look at your transport needs. If you live in a suburb or regional city, the longer range and greater capacity of an electric car may be better for you.
But for many people, it’s likely that you’ll have a number of options available to you. You may have an electric vehicle for longer trips or group trips, as well as an e-bike for going to school or grocery shopping.
Written by Muhammad Rizwan Azhar and Waqas Uzair/The conversation.