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Could powered two-wheelers be a game-changer for urban travel?

By Alan Davies - posted Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Reliance on pedal power has limited the appeal of cycling in Australia's low density cities, but the advent of viable power assistance makes two-wheelers accessible to a wider range of travellers, including those who're unfit or who feel too old to push pedals. Batteries make topography largely irrelevant and eliminate the need for specialist clothing or showers at journey's end.


Powered two-wheelers have the potential to drive mode shift because they offer most of the advantages of private vehicles. Understanding this is critical. Like cars (and walking), they're available on-demand; they're private; and they take passengers directly from origin to destination i.e. point-to-point.


There's no walking to a stop, waiting, sharing space with strangers, or transferring between services, as there is with public transport. And compared to a car, two-wheelers are easier to park and cheaper to buy and operate. In congested conditions they can be faster too.

The key advantage of two-wheelers from a social viewpoint derives from their small footprint and modest speeds. As Asian cities show, they're potentially a congestion-buster; many more travellers can fit on a given road in peak periods if they ride two-wheelers than is possible with cars carrying on average just over one person.

Moreover, electric two-wheelers have a small environmental and amenity impact; require low-cost infrastructure; and demand little ongoing operational expenditure from government.


Nevertheless, there are some potential deal-breakers that must be addressed.

One: the biggest impediment to take-up of two-wheelers is safety. This must be tackled by providing a comprehensive network of segregated infrastructure and, where road space is necessarily shared with larger vehicles (e.g. close to home), imposing restrictions on the behaviour of drivers.


Two: as with public transport, the main driver of demand for two-wheelers will be constraints on the competitiveness of cars. This can be addressed by a combination of pricing access to road space (which is highly desirable anyway) and repurposing some road space for the exclusive use of two-wheelers.

Three: in order to realise the benefits, two-wheelers must be lightweight, limited to typical pedal speeds, and powered by either human effort or electricity. The potential road capacity, environmental, amenity and safety benefits will not be captured fully if travellers ride large or powerful motorcycles.

Four: electricity should be clean. This is an issue that applies to all electric vehicles and fortunately is being addressed by the broader shift to renewable energy sources.

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This article was first published in Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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