In 2016, following the success of the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC) electric bike (eBike) trial in Perth in 2015, RAC replicated the trial in the picturesque, and somewhat hilly regional city of Albany, in Western Australia’s south.
The trial offered 20 participants from two partner organisations exclusive use of an eBike for 10 weeks to help increase awareness and usage of eBikes, to ultimately boost cycling in WA’s regional cities and towns. Over the 10 weeks, participants commuting by car dropped significantly with 46% of all trips made solely by eBike. A majority of participants also reported health, well-being and fitness benefits.
The power of electric bikes in regional WA
A ‘workplace lease system’ was used to provide participants with exclusive access to an eBike over a 10-week period. This allowed time for new travel behaviours to be established. From a trial management perspective, key benefits of the system were that it was an easier way for RAC to monitor usage and provide administrative and legal support.
Participants were recruited through an Expression of Interest process, and a diverse mix of participants were selected. Three models of eBike were used to cater for the differing needs of participants, including an electric mountain bike for those who commuted using unsealed roads.
Risk assessments were conducted to identify health, safety and legal risks of undertaking the trial. Risks were managed through a range of mitigating measures such as providing participants with specific cycling training, tools and resources. To ensure robust evaluation of the trial, participants completed before and after surveys and recorded their daily usage and experiences through weekly travel diaries. While completion of surveys was incentivised through competitions, usage of the eBikes was not.
The weekly diaries and surveys provided encouraging evidence to demonstrate the appeal and potential of eBikes. They also captured information relating to cycling safety and infrastructure considerations, as well as priorities for Government investment to facilitate increased cycling participation in regional WA. These insights have already helped to inform RAC’s ongoing advocacy activities relating to travel behaviour change and active transport.
Participants were encouraged to use existing safe, direct and accessible cycling routes in Albany and surrounding suburbs. While the trial did not provide new cycling routes or infrastructure in Albany, it reinforced the importance of safe, dedicated and accessible Movement Networks. It also encouraged participants to share their relatively unique experiences relating to the specific infrastructure needs of eBike users, which is a growing user group in helping to generate active transport trips.
The trial was successful in forming effective partnerships across state and local government departments and sectors as well as boosting community support and acceptance of cycling and eBikes. Both elements were crucial to create an environment where decision-makers could influence and implement policies that promote sustainable transport options, and equally importantly, ensuring these are supported with appropriate funding.
Key lessons learned from the trial can help other organisations wishing to replicate similar initiatives to promote and encourage the use of active transport modes.
- City of Albany
- (Former) WA Department of Sport and Recreation, now the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries