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Half-ton electric bike poses latest threat to London pedestrians

In Europe
June 08, 2024

Thousands of half-ton electric cargo bikes that look like “small articulated trucks” are set to arrive in London next year despite concerns over public safety.

Campaigners have warned that the vehicles, which will weigh up to 650kg when fully loaded, could lead to a rise in injuries among pedestrians.

The ePack vehicle, which resembles a cross between a Fisher-Price toy car and a cargo bicycle, includes an enclosed cab and a hi-tech system of cameras and screens in place of mirrors – all for towing a detachable trailer.

Critics fear that electric motors over 250 watts could increase the severity of injuries compared to the traditional pedal bike

Critics fear that electric motors over 250 watts could increase the severity of injuries compared to the traditional pedal bike – JULIAN SIMMONDS/FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Tee Blackwood, Cityshuttle’s spokesman claimed the business already has orders for 1,500 vehicles.

Transport for London hopes that 17 per cent of cargo delivery journeys in the capital will be made by bicycle by the year 2030.

Despite concerns that the half-ton, electrically-propelled, articulated vehicle is not a bike, Keith Jones, Cityshuttle’s founder argued: “It’s predominantly a small, articulated truck… it’s got pedals, and it’s got a 250 watt motor. So it’s a bike. And that’s it.”

The Government website agrees with Mr Jones, adding only that the motors on an electrically assisted pedal cycle (EAPC) must cut out at 15.5mph – a speed that the Cityshuttle boss cheerfully estimated his vehicle can hit in “under three seconds”.

The website states: “An EAPC, which complies with the above is not considered to be a motor vehicle within the meaning of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Road Traffic Act 1988.”

A passenger-carrying variant of the bike, seats two people in surprising comfort, complete with heated seats and large windows through which passengers can enjoy the astonished stares of passers-by.

The passenger-carrying vehicle comes with heated seats and space for two people

Electric bikes must cut out at 15.5mph – a speed ePack can hit in ‘under three seconds’ – JULIAN SIMMONDS/FOR THE TELEGRAPH

The legally-required pedals are not connected to a chain or a sprocket. Instead they send an electrical signal to the motors, with the speed of pedalling being linked to the power delivered.

Benjamin Wells, one of Cityshuttle’s design engineers, says: “We’re not pushing the boundaries of what a bike is, we are designing it within the rules.”

Officials are tight-lipped about whether the “articulated truck”, to use Mr Jones’ description, fits the definition of an EAPC.

Benjamin Wells, a design engineer, insists the Cityshuttle is a bike

Benjamin Wells, a design engineer, insists the Cityshuttle is a bike – JULIAN SIMMONDS/FOR THE TELEGRAPH

A Department for Transport spokesman would only say that it was up to police and the courts to make a decision, while both the Home Office and the Department for Housing and Communities, which oversees some council traffic enforcement powers, refused to comment.

During a test ride around Cityshuttle’s HQ in Southwark, The Telegraph took the e-Pack around the block. Despite its size and weight the vehicle was intuitive to handle.

A pair of cameras fitted where one would find wing mirrors, combined with two large tablet-sized screens in the cab, gave a clear view either side of the trailer.

A digital gearbox operated by a simple push button selects one of five acceleration modes, and there is also a handbrake to keep the half-ton cargo carrier stationary during loading and unloading.

Critics have called for legislation to keep up with the pace of these new electric bikes

Critics have called for legislation to keep up with the pace of these new electric bikes – JULIAN SIMMONDS/FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Steve Cole, the policy director of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said that while electric-powered bikes can help reduce road traffic and pollution, “we need the right regulatory framework in place to minimise potential risks”.

“Our concern would be that large electric bikes with electric motors over 250 watts could increase the severity of injuries, in comparison to pedal-only cargo bikes, particularly if users were not aware how to operate them safely and the government does not set clear guidelines for use,” said Mr Cole.

He warned that the Cityshuttle vehicle could require extra regulation for public safety reasons.

“The potential of emerging technology is huge – but the government needs to work at the same pace to put the right legislative framework in place to keep our communities safe.”

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