e-Bikes for families

Finland has around 500.000 families owning two cars, and the second car is often more than 10 years old. At the same time, Finland is behind in the usage of e-bikes compared to other EU countries, and e-bikes are often perceived to be “for old people only”. The idea behind this Use Case was to encourage families to adopt e-bikes to eliminate the need for a second car. It was expected that e-bikes are particularly attractive compared to conventional bikes given the longer distances in the Helsinki-Uusimaa region where many families reside.

Demonstration Action

The demonstration action included several testing campaigns carried out between 2018 and 2020.

The first, two-week long, e-bike testing campaign was conducted at the Korkeasaari Zoo. Families had a chance to use an e-bike to reach the gate of the zoo from the parking lot or vice versa: parents tried e-biking whereas children travelled with an e-bike taxi. 90 families tested those e-bikes.

The second campaign was targeted at families with a second car, which was supposed to be substituted with an e-bike for a month. The bikes were provided by the implementing partner, HSY. For the campaign implementation, four families were selected to record their testing experiences and share them via social media. Subsequently, the next campaign targeting families was organized to show how e-bikes would work at wintertime.

The third testing campaign focused on housing companies: apartment houses received e-cargo bikes for shared use over 2 to 3 months. Two housing companies were selected for the experiment, including a 60-apartment block in Helsinki and a 151-apartment block in Espoo, and were provided with one e-cargo bike in each case. In this frame, the project also applied for a grant by the Finnish Ministry of Environment to finance an experiment in two rental house companies as a part of their “How to halve carbon footprint” experiment. This spin-off project got further funding from the Finnish Ministry of Environment, and HSY is going to launch the second phase of the testing campaign for housing companies with SATO, one of the biggest tenement companies of Finland.

HSY has organized various e-bike testing events in the Helsinki metropolitan area. In the campaign’s framework, 15 e-bike testing events for residents and 13 e-bike testing for workplaces were organized. Smaller scale events took place in the suburbs whereas larger events were carried out in the Helsinki city centre as part of, for example, the Helsinki Day or EU-Presidency opening celebrations. Most of the events were supported by the Helsinki Region Transport (HSL). Beyond that, HSY organised three e-bike testing events and an e-bike tours for the Parliament of Finland as well as an e-bike tour for journalists. Overall, 1810 people tested e-bikes in the project’s events.

Results, lessons learnt and recommendations

On the whole, the project has received much media attention and positive feedback. The sales of e-bikes doubled in Finland in 2018 and the same trend was detected in 2019 as well. In a survey conducted by a student of Laurea University of Applied Science with the support of HSY, it was found out that bikes had been used in a variety of ways among the residents of the housing companies taking part in the campaign, whereas the use of cars had declined somewhat. Moreover, some housing companies had experienced an increase in community spirit.

During the project, it has become known that most of the cars that were replaced with e-bikes in the last year were not second family cars, but rather the family’s only cars. IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report of October 2018 and the public debate surrounding it were the final trigger for many families to sell their car and buy e-bikes instead. Thereby, it is important to point out that the families replacing their cars with e-bikes are living mostly in the apartment houses in the outer part of the inner city or nearest suburbs – not in the housing estate areas. One obvious reason for that is the fact that these areas were built in the mid-20th century or before, and therefore the parking is quite arduous.

Somewhat surprisingly, it is much easier for many families with one car to sell their only car than for families with two cars to sell the family’s second car. In the former case, selling the family's only car is a mutual decision of the whole family. In the latter case, the decision to sell the second car affects some family members to a greater extent than others, as the “second car” is usually a car for the wife who would lose her mobility freedom were the second car to be sold.

The following lessons learned could be derived from the demonstration action:

  • Campaigning should not be underestimated: in the case of online forms for registration, plan the forms in a way that allows you to handle and analyse hundreds of participants in case you attract more people than expected.

  • In mobility experiments, the analysis of the routes, the “urban structure” of the area and the accessibility of services are very important because they are the key elements affecting residents’ daily mobility

  • Experiments with housing associations take a long time as residents need time to realize the potential of the new way of handling their daily mobility

  • Starting an experiment in winter could be very difficult under Nordic conditions.

  • Working with large housing companies can be challenging , but still worth a try because of promising scalability.

  • It is very important to do a thorough testing of new digital technology (smart locks, apps), before giving technology to residents in order to ensure that it functional and well adapted to the users’ needs and skills.

  • It is crucial to introduce participants to the use of electric vehicles: Electric-assisted cargo bikes are mainly sold to active cyclists who are well-versed to the technical solutions and use of the bike even though ready-made instructions are hardly available. But the more occasional user of a shared bike will need a more thorough introduction, which – at the same time – needs to be also concise, so that the length of the instructions does not become a threshold for implementation. It is worthwhile for campaigners to invest sufficient time implementing the guidance and advice for casual bike users.

  • Exceptional circumstances may also open up new perspectives on the development of services: The need for supporting small local companies after a crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic is largely recognized. Regarding the nature of the economic stimulus packages, the economical support should be in line with emission reduction targets. In a future project, HSY will pilot local economy home delivery service of goods and services and is therefore targeting both goals by promoting the structural change to low carbon business models and at the same time supporting the local economy and small businesses – their adaptability and resilience after the corona crisis.

  • It proved to be important to analyse global megatrends, their advantages and disadvantages, to transform them in smaller experiments and pilots with a considerable upscaling potential.

Key recommendations are summarized in a theme-specific Action Checklist for Municipalities and Companies.

Featured outputs

Several short videos covering the e-bike campaigns are available here.