Joan Swift from Sligo Cycling Campaign and Irish Cycling Campaign has penned the following report on the recent Mary Robinson Climate Conference panel discussion on e-mobility.

The 2024 edition of the annual Mary Robinson Climate Conference took place in Ballina, County Mayo, from 5th to 7th June. Sligo Cycling Campaign was delighted to be asked to participate in the panel on e-mobility hosted by IS Cycle from the University of Limerick. IS Cycle (Inclusive Sustainable Cycling) is a research project looking at ways in which e-bikes can change behaviour to reduce traffic congestion and transport emissions.

The panellists for the e-mobility session were Brian Caulfield, Professor in Transportation in Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Lorraine D’Arcy, Sustainability Action Research and Innovation Lead in TU Dublin, Dr. James Green and Dr. Abhilash Singh from the IS Cycle in University of Limerick, along with moderator Dr. Louise Foley and Irish and Sligo Cycling Campaign member Una L’Estrange (ATU Sligo). Una is a regular e-bike commuter and was invited to be on the panel to give the perspective of a member of the public on using an e-bike.

In Ireland, the term ‘e-mobility’ tends to conjure up images of a million electric cars replacing a million internal combustion engine powered cars. However, several panellists pointed out that these like-for-like replacements will occupy the same space as the current fleet, thus doing nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. Neither is the current e-car fleet contributing much to our transport decarbonisation target since, according to Professor Caulfield, e-cars are mainly being used in urban areas which already have alternative transport options as opposed to rural areas where, arguably, they would have more impact. Brian also pointed out e-cars are not currently part of a Just Transition since ownership is mainly confined to people in affluent areas. A further issue regarding electric cars is that they tend to be quite heavy, and the heavier the vehicle the more tyre particulates are emitted and the greater the wear on roads.

Dr. D’Arcy also feels that e-bikes of various kinds are quite simply a more efficient means of moving people through streets which are essentially the spaces between buildings. Both she and Una spoke about their personal experience of e-bikes being game-changers when it comes to tackling hills. In Una’s case her regular route takes her along the Wild Atlantic Way so she was also eloquent on the ability of her e-bike to counter the effect of wind. Both speakers also mentioned the obstacles to safe and comfortable riding such as poorly maintained cycling surfaces and driver behaviour.

Dr. Green made the point that e-bikes allow for longer trips and for people to continue cycling into older age. He spoke about how there are several different types and shapes of e-bikes depending on the user requirements, whether the user cycles solo or needs to carry shopping or children. UL’s Dr. Abhilash Singh spoke about the importance of collecting adequate data on travel patterns and types of trips. He expressed the view that we need to consider the sustainability of e-bikes from the mining of minerals for the battery to the end of the bike’s life.

All of the panellists work in universities, so they were conscious of the long commutes undertaken by many students. The student accommodation crisis means long trips from home by public transport or private car have become commonplace. This militates against active mobility.

The panel also discussed e-scooters. They have the advantage of being cheaper than e-bikes and being easier to store, but the panellists agreed that for comfort and safety the small wheels require much smoother road surfaces than are the norm. E-scooters are popular with commuters in areas without early morning bus services or without public transport at all. Their lower cost versus the cost of e-bikes likely makes them attractive to people on lower incomes. One panellist expressed the view that the rigid body position required when riding a scooter means that injury in the event of a fall is more likely than with a similar fall from a bike where the rider is in a less rigid position. Una mentioned that she had noticed another type of e-mobility being used in her village.  Some older golfers are using their golf cart, not just on the course but also to get to and from the course.

There was an interesting discussion on how to plan for more and safer cycling, including on e-bikes. Everyone agreed we need better infrastructure, but Dr. D’Arcy pointed out and Professor Caulfield agreed that while transport modelling determines what decisions are made, modelling only measures the status quo; i.e. what people are currently doing not what they would do in another scenario. This is a major limitation on progress. Also, while the Department of Transport and the transport agencies draw up plans, appraisal criteria are determined by the Department of Finance.

The most unusual “something we never knew until today” nugget of information learned during the discussion was that the Central Statistics Office measures the importation of bicycles into Ireland by volume and not by unit! In other words, we know how many tonnes of bicycles are imported each year, but not how many are sports bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, adapted bikes etc. This sounds like something Irish Cycling Campaign could raise in its meetings with the Department of Transport.

More details of the Mary Robinson Climate Conference are available at

For more information on the IS Cycle (Inclusive Sustainable Cycling) research project, see

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