News

House of Lords Consider e-bike Regulations

Tuesday, 24 February 2015.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

5.37 pm

Moved by Baroness Kramer

That the Grand Committee do consider the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Kramer) (LD): My Lords, these draft regulations are being made to change the class of electrically assisted pedal cycles—EAPCs—that are not treated as motor vehicles when used on roads in Great Britain. The changes are intended to encourage the use of EAPCs to the benefit of both individuals and businesses.

The current regulations came into force in 1983. They set out the requirements that EAPCs must satisfy in order for them not to be treated as motor vehicles when used on roads. Compliant EAPCs are not subject to vehicle excise duty and do not need to be registered or insured. Riders are not required to hold a driving licence, although no one under 14 is allowed to ride one on roads. The requirements that have to be satisfied in order for EAPCs not to be treated as motor vehicles on roads relate to their weight, the maximum power of the motor and the speed at which electric assistance cuts off. The EAPC must be capable of being propelled solely by pedals, for example, in the event of a depleted battery or motor failure. However, in practice, it is our understanding that most users pedal their machines and that, for those where a separate throttle is fitted, the riders mix the power delivery between pedalling and the throttle control.

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Since 1983, there have been significant improvements to technology, in particular in relation to power supply, where heavy lead-acid batteries have largely been superseded by lighter and more efficient lithium-ion batteries. Attitudes towards cycle use, both for consumers and businesses, have also been transformed with regard to congestion, operating costs, emissions and health. Finally, legislation and standards in Europe have changed. In 2013, a new EU framework regulation on the mandatory type approval of two or three-wheel vehicles and quadricycles was not applied to a class of EAPCs. The current GB requirements are more restrictive, so it is right that we now make harmonising changes to provide a wider choice of products for individuals and businesses.

We began a review of the EAPC requirements in 2010, with an initial consultation on limited changes. Further views were received via the Government’s Red Tape Challenge Review in the following year. We then commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory to,

“gather, generate and expert-review evidence from a wide variety of sources (including Red Tape Challenge and the 2010 EAPC consultation responses) on the forces and pressures influencing pedal cycle construction, sale and use in Great Britain, and provide DfT with costed, practical and appropriate options for legislative change”.

The amending legislation now before the Committee is thus the culmination of careful and extensive consideration.

Three main changes are proposed. First, the maximum motor power for bicycles is to be increased from 200 watts to 250 watts. That matches the most popular EAPCs manufactured for the EU market and will alone significantly increase the choice of products available to our consumers. Secondly, we have decided to remove all the current weight limits for EAPCs—that is, the 40 kilogram limit for bicycles other than tandems or tricycles and the 60 kilogram limit for tandems and tricycles. Again, this matches the position elsewhere in Europe.

Concern has been particularly expressed by Transport for London and the Mayor of London regarding allowing EAPCs not treated as motor vehicles on the roads to be heavier, but we are satisfied that the change is largely self-limiting as a 250-watt motor is simply not going to provide enough power to move an unacceptably heavy load. We have no evidence from other European countries, where these vehicles have been in use for some time, to suggest that they pose safety risks. Our review of the current position has indicated that a realistic unladen weight for a cargo tricycle is between 125 kilograms and 150 kilograms, well above the current weight limit of 60 kilograms. The existing weight limit forces manufacturers to use parts and materials that are not suitable for commercial use. The removal of the limit could encourage the use of innovative design and allow a greater choice of construction materials. The third change is to allow vehicles with more than three wheels to be classified as EAPCs. There is not much evidence of demand for such vehicles at present, but we consider that harmonising with the European convention in this respect has the potential to stimulate demand, particularly for light urban delivery vehicles.

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I previously mentioned the electric assist cut-off speed. We plan a harmonising change from 15 to 15.5 miles per hour. This is simply to align with the European standard of 25 kilometres per hour. However, unlike the EU, we will continue to include EAPCs— those that can be powered solely by the electric motor by virtue of a throttle or switch—of up to speeds of 15.5 mph in the category of EAPCs that are not treated as motor vehicles on roads. We believe that this is a distinct benefit to our disabled and elderly users. Finally, we are taking the opportunity to replace references to a withdrawn British standard on power measurement with the latest British and European equivalent and to recognise any other comparable European measurements.

Our impact assessment of the changes anticipates that they will stimulate significant growth in EAPC sales. That growth is forecast to deliver savings to consumers of between £92 million and £267 million over the next 10 years through car operating cost savings, health benefits, reduced congestion and wider impacts. Businesses are forecast to save between £5.8 million and £22.9 million through congestion savings, and goods delivery and van operational savings. The net annual benefit to businesses is estimated to be just over £0.6 million per year. Overall, the changes have been widely welcomed by the majority of the stakeholders and individuals who commented on the draft legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, while this might not be the greatest issue confronting Parliament, it is actually quite an important little change. A couple of years ago I did some research into these bikes. Indeed, I have just sent a note to the Minister’s civil servants to check on a particular kind of vehicle which I thought might have fallen within this designation, but I understand that that is not the case because it does not have pedals. During the course of her speech, the Minister said that bikes without pedals might, at some stage in the future, be the subject of an amendment to the law. I think I heard that correctly.

The bikes I am referring to do not have pedals and do not exceed 15.5 miles per hour, so they cannot go very fast. They do not need an MOT, nor do people need a licence or insurance for them. People do not need to use a helmet at the moment or pay road tax. There is very little difference between these bikes and the electrically assisted bikes or mopeds that are covered by the order before the Committee. To what extent will genuine consideration be made of these more advanced vehicles without pedals?

I would imagine that nationally there are a lot of bikes being held in stock that fall under the old regulations. I have seen these bikes in Tesco, where they cost around £450. I presume that a number of retailers must be holding stocks under the old regulations. Were they consulted and did they express a view on whether the implementation of this regulation should be delayed?

5.45 pm

It would be good if at some stage in future these other bikes could be included. Why did I do a bit of research on them? I wanted one myself. It was interesting

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to go around different companies to look at what products were available. I went to one depot that had a show room full of these bikes that exceeded the 40 kilogram limit, but they were the type that lacked pedals. They are out there for sale, though I presume that they have not been sold because they fall outside the regulations. I also presume that they are to be re-exported, because they cannot be sold in the United Kingdom. At some point in the future maybe Ministers might be more sympathetic. If we are governed here by European regulations and cannot exceed them I have no case, but I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say in reply.

Lord Rosser (Lab): Before I start, I shall say that have a number of questions. They relate to the impact assessment and I suppose that being confronted by a 21-page impact assessment full of statements and figures constitutes a challenge. I am not expecting answers today to the questions, some of which are highly detailed, so there is no need for any frantic activity behind the Minister. I am more than willing to have a response subsequent to this meeting, if she would like to do it that way.

I also note with interest in the impact assessment the statement of fact that this measure seeks to increase the EAPC sales,

“by harmonising GB legal standards for EAPCs with European standards”.

In some parts of the House that kind of statement would be dynamite to those with a certain lack of enthusiasm for the EU. Perhaps that is why this item is being discussed at 10 minutes to six in the Moses Room, when attendance might be fairly limited, rather than in another environment that might have provoked a few more people to turn up. I make that comment somewhat facetiously, bearing in mind the commitment to harmonising with EU standards.

The Minister has set out that to be currently classified as an EAPC—an electrically assisted pedal cycle—in this country the vehicle has to comply with a number of requirements and has set out the changes. As she said, those requirements are that: the continuous rated power of the motor must not exceed 200 watts for standard bicycles and 250 watts for tandems and tricycles; the electrical assistance must cut off when the vehicle reaches 15 mph; and the unladen weight must not exceed 40 kilograms for standard bicycles and 60 kilograms for tandems and tricycles. The changes which this order makes to bring us into line with European standards are that: the maximum motor power for standard bikes is increased to 250 watts; the electronically assisted cut-off speed is amended to 15.5 mph; all the weight limits are removed; and vehicles with more than three wheels are permitted.

Although the impact assessment tells us that there will be an anticipated increase in bike sales by 7,850 units to 20,400 by 2024, it does not really explain which of the changes that will be made by this order will be driving this increase. Is it the increase from 15 to 15.5 mph, which does not appear significant? Is it the increase in the maximum motor power for standard bicycles from 200 to 250 watts? Is it—as I

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think my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours suggested—the removal of the weight limits? Or is it the change permitting vehicles with more than three wheels?

How many vehicles with more than three wheels do the Government anticipate will appear on our roads as a result of this order? If the weight limits are to be removed, could the Minister confirm that these are unladen weights, which is what I understand to be the position? I know the Minister addressed this point in her opening comments about not expecting anybody to go stupid over the weight limits because of the fact that the bike would not be able to move if it got above a certain weight, but is there any weight beyond which an EAPC—bicycle, tandem, tricycle or vehicle with more than three wheels—becomes potentially unsafe for the driver or for other road users? Or is the Government’s view that that level would only be reached in a situation where you could not actually pedal the bicycle, tandem or tricycle in any case and therefore it is an irrelevant consideration?

On safety, page 1 of the impact assessment states that the objective is “to simplify and reduce” legislation,

“whilst maintaining or improving safety standards”.

Can the Minister say a little more about how the order will actually improve safety standards?

The impact assessment also states on page 1 that,

“the most commonly produced EU bicycles cannot be used in the UK without road tax and a driving licence”.

Since the order will change that situation, could the Minister say what the impact of the order will be on the UK bicycle manufacturing industry, as opposed to the retail sector, when the most commonly used EU bicycles can be used in the UK without having to pay road tax or have a driving licence? My understanding is that the UK bicycle manufacturing sector is stated in the impact assessment to be valued at, I think, just over £50 million. It is very small in that sense. Is it not possible that this order and the changes it incorporates will be something of a blow to what is left of the UK bicycle manufacturing sector? Is that why the impact assessment does not address that issue, saying in paragraph 5.8 that it,

“concentrates solely on the benefits to the retail sector from increased sales of EAPCs”?

The impact assessment tells us on page 3, although the Explanatory Memorandum does not, that:

“The current GB Regulations define an EAPC”,

as including a requirement—which I think comes on to a point that my noble friend has been making—that:

“It must be fitted with pedals by means of which it is capable of being propelled”.

Could the Minister confirm that that requirement is not being deleted by the order we are discussing at the moment?

Page 5 of the impact assessment states, at paragraph 5.1, that as,

“no evidence has been provided or otherwise identified that suggests any significant quantifiable additional safety (accident/casualty) or other costs, the impact assessment assumes negligible costs”.

However, since the impact assessment holds out the prospect of a significant increase in EAPC sales, is it

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the contention that users of EAPCs are less likely—or no more likely—to suffer fatalities, or serious or slight injuries, than users of cars or trucks engaged in similar trips?

Paragraph 5.22 states:

“The accident benefits from reduced car use are ignored as any potential costs from increased accidents are not included in the earlier section for bikes”.

What is the evidence that these two figures would cancel each other out, as this would appear to be the justification for making that statement?

The order aligns the UK with the EU 250 watt maximum motor power limit. Does it also mean that in future in the UK, drivers of EAPC vehicles with engines of between 201 and 250 watts will no longer have to undertake compulsory basic training or wear helmets? If that is the case—I may well be wrong—will the Minister point out where in the documentation it says that, and what the impact would be on safety? Could she also say if any people in this country currently drive EAPC vehicles of between 201 watts and 250 watts with the current regulations in force? What she has been saying is that the current regulations on the tax and driving licence act as a deterrent to anyone driving vehicles of between 201 watts and 250 watts.

In paragraph 5.2, the impact assessment refers to higher sales of EAPC bicycles having the potential to displace journeys by bus. I do not want to exaggerate this because I appreciate that we are talking about relatively small numbers, but is there any significant estimated impact of this on bus revenue, or is it deemed to be so negligible as to be—I say this in the best spirit—not worth bothering about? If there is going to be this transfer from bus travel to bike travel, how would that contribute to the declared objective set out in the impact assessment, to which I have already referred, of,

“maintaining or improving safety standards”?

I will not raise the next issue regarding a gap in the wording of the impact assessment. I will forget that for the moment.

Paragraph 5.7 of the impact assessment states that the direct benefits to business are assumed to be,

“increased profits from increased bike sales”.

Is that a net figure that also reflects any adverse impact on car or van sales, since the documentation clearly envisages a transfer of journeys from car, van and, indeed, bus as a result of this order?

If I read it correctly, the impact assessment claims benefits from the order of between £97 million and £290 million over a 10-year period to 2024. Having a gap of nearly £200 million from benefits that, at a maximum, are less than £300 million does not, frankly, inspire confidence in the likely impact of this order.

The impact assessment on page 2 states that benefits to the cycling industry from increased bike sales are,

“likely to be displaced by reduced expenditure in other retail sectors”.

Is it the Government’s view that one will cancel out the other—and, if so, what is the evidence for that?

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Paragraph 5.16 on page 9 of the impact assessment states, in respect of EAPCs:

“Evidence from online appraisal of lifecycle benefits typically provide estimates of life expectancy of 15,000 miles, equivalent to just over 6 years’ use”.

That works out at some 2,500 miles per year. Paragraph 5.19 on page 10 of the impact assessment states that,

“this impact assessment assumes EAPC users cycle 2,392 kms per year”.

That is considerably less than the 2,500 miles per year figure quoted in paragraph 5.16 of the impact assessment. Why are the figures so different—unless they are not comparable, which may well be the case? But if they are not comparable—if I am not comparing like with like—perhaps I may have a response, albeit at some later stage, on what different considerations they are reflecting.

6 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: I have been listening very carefully to my noble friend’s comments. There is a danger that the targets will not be met, although if electrically powered bicycles without pedals which fit the same criteria about kilogram limits and miles per hour are included, they would be far exceeded. We are missing an opportunity, if I have understood it correctly. If it is simply bicycles with pedals, that is going to limit the market very much. I suspect that those who have been responding to the impact assessment may well have had in mind the kind of electrically assisted vehicles to which I am referring.

Lord Rosser: I thank my noble friend for that intervention. One of the questions I raised earlier was whether there is still a requirement for pedals or whether it has been removed, which is part of the point that my noble friend has made. I think that is probably the situation, but I am asking for confirmation that it is still there.

My final point—I am sure to everybody’s great relief—is that the net present value of business benefits reflected here, which I assume means increased bike sales, is quoted in paragraph 5.14 of the impact assessment as being £2.7 million to £10.3 million over the period 2015-24, but in paragraph 5.26 of the same document as being £2.6 million to £10 million. Is that simply a case of slightly different figures being quoted or am I not comparing like with like? If I am not comparing like with like, what are the different factors taken into account in the two sets of figures? Can the Minister say whether the net present value of business benefits are in addition to or included in the overall widely different benefit figures of £97 million and £290 million? I assume that they are in addition to them, but I would be grateful for confirmation.

I have raised a number of questions which arise from, frankly, basically one read of the impact assessment. I am afraid I could not face going through it again, and if I had gone through it again I might well have found the answers to some of the questions that I have raised. I do not want anybody to take that as a derogatory comment about the impact assessment. It

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contains some very interesting statistics and information, and I appreciate having received it. I would not wish my comments to be taken as a hostile reaction to it.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, did not read the impact assessment another two or three times because I suspect he would have come forward with other questions and queries. I will make sure that those who prepared the impact assessment are told of his compliments, if I may take them that way, on the detail that has been provided.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and partly to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I think the vehicle the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, described is classified as a low-powered moped and that it would be sensible to have a conversation after this Committee to understand exactly what kind of non-pedal bike he is talking about.

Lord Campbell-Savours: They are vehicles which at the moment carry a limit of a 200-watt motor and cannot exceed 40 kilograms.

Baroness Kramer: I think we will have to investigate that because the noble Lord deserves a more detailed response. These regulations apply to vehicles which must have a pedalling capacity, so that continues in place. Only those kinds of vehicles are covered by these regulations. I will look at the regimes for the other vehicles the noble Lord has described.

I will just try to address some of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, although he has kindly said that we could respond in writing. Particularly when comparative numbers are involved, that will be a wise approach, but I shall make some more general comments around the questions he raised. For example, he asked where the benefits for this would come from and whether it was because of a particular aspect of the change in regulation. The argument as I understand it—it makes sense to me—is that it is the harmonisation which creates the change because it means that suddenly people in the UK are able to access the much wider range of models available in continental Europe but which have not been available here because, under the British classification, they would have required registration, taxation, insurance, licensing and so on. A much greater range of models will suddenly become available.

He asked whether that could have an impact on UK bicycle manufacturers. I would argue that for them one of the most hampering experiences has been the need to produce one bike for the British market and another model to compete effectively in the European market. With harmonisation, they can now look at a model that reaches the entire population of the EU, which should change the dynamic significantly. Having a single market, as it were, for electrically assisted pedal cycles creates an opportunity for UK manufacturers not just to focus on the domestic market alone but on a far broader market. That is potentially a very significant opportunity for them.

Lord Rosser: I appreciate that one can look at the issue as the Minister has done, but the other obvious point is that we can now have bicycles in this country

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that we could not have before, and they are being manufactured big time within Europe and presumably not being manufactured on any great scale by the bicycle manufacturing industry in this country. Therefore, we are likely to be dominated by bicycles manufactured in Europe. But I appreciate that one can look at it the other way, as the Minister is doing, and say that it is an opportunity for the bicycle manufacturing industry in this country to start to manufacture these bicycles and sell them. She said that the great majority of those who responded welcomed the change. Was there any response from the UK bicycle manufacturing industry and was it quite happy with what is happening?

Baroness Kramer: I would be glad to see whether there is anything that we can share that comes from those manufacturers. I am not sure that I can give the noble Lord an answer at this moment in time. I am sure that he would not want to see a protectionist approach to an industry. Typically, the UK has thrived from a much more open trading environment rather than a protectionist environment, and I see no reason why that should not be true in this industry as well as any other.

The noble Lord asked about four-wheeled vehicles, which now come within scope, provided that they meet all the other criteria. Royal Mail in the past, as well as others, have seen this as a potential mechanism for last-mile delivery, rather than sending around white van man on all occasions. So there is potential in this area that so far we have been unable to test because these vehicles have not been available to people. It is an area that we will be watching with great interest.

The noble Lord asked about safety. Perhaps I can at the same time address the weight issues. The noble Lord said that the fact that the power of the engine is limited constrains the weight of the vehicle—but with a weight constraint there is a constant intention to try to lightweight the vehicles to get them under the barrier. Removing the weight restriction gives an ability to consider a sturdier construction and a more appropriate one for those vehicles that carry goods, albeit in relatively small amounts—otherwise one would be never be able to move them. We see removing the weight restriction as a safety measure, because in effect it prevents the gaming of that particular standard, which we do not think has anything much to add.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry to come back on the question of pedals. Is any work being done on whether we can change the regulations to include vehicles without pedals subject to exactly the same limits as the ones with pedals? That would be of great interest to the industry—because if we could develop that, we would have a winner.

Baroness Kramer: I do not know. This is not an area on which I have direct policy responsibility, so I do not know of any work that is happening. I would be glad to share with the noble Lord any particular work that is being done. On the other hand, the department is always looking at technology. At times we have looked at things such as Segways, and there is constant discussion about mobility scooters, so there is a constant lookout for different technologies to see whether they require an adjustment in regulation. But at this moment, I know of nothing.

Under EU law, this regime could not apply to vehicles without pedals. I am not aware of what other regimes could be available. We will write to the noble Lord if there is anything happening that would help flush out some of the issues he has raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, continued the discussion about three-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles and whether there are particular safety risks around them or around changing the regulations. We have a lot of continental European experience to look at, and after reviewing that information there is nothing to indicate that there is any particular safety risk associated with changing these parameters. Relatively few four-wheeled vehicles are sold, and most tricycles that are sold are towards the heavier end of the permitted range and are quite difficult to manoeuvre—but nothing has indicated to us that there are any particular safety risks.

I hope that I have covered most of the questions. There were quite a number of very specific questions and I will be glad to follow up on them. I sense a general understanding that this is a sensible measure for us to support. I hope that the Committee will support the Motion.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.13 pm.