E-bike sales dropped by 90% after new registration rules

Regulations might have stymied the sale of e-bikes but interest groups are hoping that budget measures will help improve the numbers

Prominent bicycle dealer The Cyclist reports that e-bike sale is on the rise; bike advocacy group says increase in very recent months is due to new budget announcements
Prominent bicycle dealer The Cyclist reports that e-bike sale is on the rise; bike advocacy group says increase in very recent months is due to new budget announcements

There has been an 85% drop in use of all pedelecs and e-bikes, and bicycle vendors have reported a 90% fall in the sale of e-bikes since the government announced a registration scheme for 250w pedelecs, MaltaToday has learned.

“It’s time this rather stupid and hastily enacted law is repealed so that we can enjoy the same BEV growth in pedelecs as other EU states and look to effective enforcement,” Jim Wightman of  the Bicycling Advocacy Group (BAG) said. “The group is campaigning to remove the registration of 250W pedelecs, remove the need for helmets, and calling for “clear targets and milestones for pedelecs and pedelec infrastructure”

“There are far more people on bicycles every day and it is time we started making infrastructure for them that is efficient and safe.”

While pedelecs and e-bikes are booming in Europe, the trend has not caught on in Malta. The laws pertaining to registration of electric bikes and mandatory use of helmets is one reason, Wightman told us, as these shoot down any chance of e-bikes catching on full speed locally.

The group takes no issue with recommending cyclists to wear helmets, he said, but it is far too expensive to supply helmets for everyone for such a scheme. Referring to government e-bike sharing initiatives, Wightman said that he is estimating that it would cost the government €170,000 to provide helmets, excluding shipping and distribution costs, which is not feasible.

Safer than normal bicyles

Another reason, he said, is the public perception that electric bikes are dangerous. But the reality is that pedelecs might even be safer than normal bicycles in traffic, as they allow cyclists to accelerate from traffic.

“E-bikes provide more balance in traffic, which is better for the cyclist and for drivers,” he said, referring to an electric bike user’s ability to keep up with other vehicles, especially uphill.

“Most people who try an e-bike once will go on to buy one, especially once they need to go uphill,” Wightman said, adding that a cyclist can ride an e-bike to work in a tie and jacket and not break a sweat. “It’s like taking a gentle walk, and avoiding traffic and parking issues.”

Lack of infrastructure and planning which fails to consider cyclists is another factor. “While there are a number of charging ports for cars, there are none for pedelecs, and I don’t think there has been enough effort to install bike racks in the right place,” he said, adding that he estimates that bicycles outnumber electric cars 35:1, and yet there has been more effort to accommodate electric cars than bicycles.

But not all hope is lost. There has been a slight increase in the sale of e-bikes in recent months following the 2018 Budget announcements, Wightman said. According to the budget, the benefits for the purchasing of pedelecs will include a €400 cash benefit and a 7.5% VAT rebate.

In fact, a representative for The Cyclist, a prominent local bicycle dealer, told this newspaper that the sales of e-bikes are on the increase. “Nowadays, we sell a few every week.”

The government does have the right idea when it comes to incentivising the use of environment-friendly forms of transport, Wightman said.

“I think that [the government] is aware that what it invests in [such schemes], it will save in healthcare expenses down the line.”

The grant is a step in the right direction since pedelecs are pricey, oftentimes comparable to the price of a motorbike.

“That said, the prices of bicycles are going up as well. But I think [electric bikes] they are a ‘deal’, as they solve a number of problems.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, a young entrepreneur who is currently looking into facilitating the use of e-bikes in Malta told this newspaper that although the price of an e-bike is often more than double that of a normal bicycle, one would usually get more than double the use out of it.

“Most people in Malta cannot, for obvious reasons, use their bicycle every day, all year round, wherever they go,” he said, referring to the numerous issues that cyclists face locally.

“People find it too difficult to ride their bicycle through most of the roads, especially uphill, and they don’t want to go to work sweating. They might as well use their car.” However, he said, an e-bike eliminates most of these issues. “E-bikes could also be more safe than a normal bicycle, since you would be able to keep up with and become part of the traffic.”

There are many benefits to riding a pedelec, he said, as although they are far easier to ride than a normal bicycle, pedalling one still requires a certain degree of exercise. But in many ways, e-bikes replace cars and motorbikes, without the use of combustion engines and fuel.

A young e-bike user and University student who preferred to stay anonymous told us that she  bought an e-bike for commuting purposes. “An e-bike is more than adequate for our conditions,” she said, referring to the numerous hills that she encounters on the way and the warm climate of the island.

Budget schemes

The schemes announced in the 2018 Budget will be publicised shortly by Transport Malta, following the publication of a legal notice, and such schemes will be open for private individuals, NGOs, Local Councils and commercial companies, a spokesperson for Transport Malta told MaltaToday. 

“Transport Malta and the Ministry for Transport Infrastructure and Capital Projects are currently drafting a set of procedures and simplified regulations for bike sharing services, infrastructure and permits. There is increasing interest from various companies to provide bicycle and pedelec sharing services.”

Local initiatives to raise awareness and facilitate e-bike use have been on the increase, with the most recent being a Facebook page; E-Bikes Malta, set up to collect and provide information on the topic. The page encourages cyclists to contribute to the project by filling out a questionnaire.

What is an electric bicycle?

An electric bike looks just like a normal bicycle, with a motor, battery, and controller added. Very often, an electric bike would have the same parts as a regular bicycle, including pedals and handles. The motor is meant to make pedalling easier, but doesn’t entirely remove the need for human power.

Electric bikes are more comfortable than regular bicycles and make hills and long distances more manageable. They are more economical and environment-friendly than motorcycles or other electric vehicles.