Ontario Tech researchers in Oshawa looking at e-bikes as “future” of personal transportation

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Published October 6, 2022 at 2:05 pm

E-Bike rider at Windfields Farms near Ontario Tech's north Oshawa campus

While we are not at the Jetsons stage of transportation just yet, Ontario Tech researchers are exploring ways to better understand what we know about e-bikes.

In a recently published paper in the journal Transport Policy, the researchers say e-bike use has the potential to transform personal transportation into a mode that is eco-friendly, age-friendly, barrier-free, healthy, and cost-effective.

As urban centres experience rapid population growth, more and more people are trying to get from place to place cheaply and with as little impact on the environment as possible. And even though the futuristic vision of flying vehicles as depicted in the 1960s cartoon show The Jetsons is still a distant dream, there are new means of travel available that are leaping us into the future of transportation.

E-micromobilities, in the form of small electric transportation options such as scooters and pedal-assisted e-bikes are popping up everywhere. But one key question is whether we are doing enough yet to learn how to embrace this trend.

Many communities face a wide range of transportation challenges, such as chronic traffic congestion, a finite number of roads and railways, and limited resources for required infrastructure upgrades. Meantime, consumers are weighing the various costs associated with travel: from public transit fares to the cost of vehicle ownership to the rising price of energy.

Through funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Infrastructure Canada, Ontario Tech researchers along with local partners are creating a plan for active transportation around the Ontario Tech north Oshawa campus location via e-bikes.

It’s all part of a plan to understand how to better support inclusive and accessible active transportation in Durham Region so that residents of all ages and abilities, regardless of the neighbourhood they live in, are able to freely move around in their communities.

“Given the growing popularity of these pedal assist e-bikes and other forms of e-micromobilities, there are opportunities for a modal shift where people leave their cars behind, and engage in active forms of transportation that are good for their health, and the health of our planet,” says Dr. Shilpa Dogra, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences. “We are at a critical point in time. Change is coming, and we need to learn how to support the long-term sustainability of these new forms of transportation. The City of Oshawa recently approved an e-scooter pilot project. There are a lot of developments happening in the area of e-micromobilities in municipalities.”

Increasing e-bike use can improve the health and well-being of people and the planet in terms of environmental impact. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario; innovative and affordable solutions are needed to reduce these emissions. Electric cars are one option, but they do not change the space allocation in our neighbourhoods. They also need lots of material such as lithium in batteries and are heavier than current vehicles; a worrying trend for safety.

Dogra believes w need to make room for e-micromobilities as people traveling small daily distances will need conflict free, safe spaces to travel.

“Our review indicates that when it comes to safety and accidents, pedal-assist e-bikes fare as well as a regular bicycle” he said. “As such, we need to ensure regulations are similar between e-bikes and traditional bicycles. We also need to encourage their uptake by providing subsidies such as those we see for electric cars.”

Team member Dr. Meghann Lloyd, an international expert in adapted physical activity was surprised by the lack of research found on individuals with disabilities.

“Our review indicates very little research has addressed how pedal-assist e-bikes benefit people with mobility challenges, a population arguably most likely to benefit from e-micromobilities,” noted Lloyd. “There was also no research on pedal-assist e-hand cycles for people who use wheelchairs. We believe that these technologies could significantly increase the ability of people with disabilities to participate in recreation and leisure activities, increase independence, and support opportunities for community engagement.”

Research team member Dr. Dan Hoornweg, an international expert in the development of sustainable cities, agreed that fairly applied subsidies are needed, and that these can greatly affect our current climate and mobility challenges.

“E-bikes, along with active mobility, anchored at easily accessible transportation nodes, need to be part of future commuting,” said Hoornweg, a Professor with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. “This new research paper highlights the need to look at transportation issues in a ‘systems way’, with parts like e-bikes playing a critical role.”

With files from Ontario Tech

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