Innovative Light ELEctric Vehicles for Active and Digital TravEl (ELEVATE): reducing mobility-related energy demand and carbon emissions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Institute for Transport Studies


The UK transport sector lags behind all other sectors in its achievement of energy diversification and carbon emission reductions to date, with emissions from transport essentially unchanged since the benchmark year of 1990. The Committee on Climate Change have been very critical of this failure and identified electrically-assisted scooters and bikes as part of solutions that need to be urgently accelerated. Indeed, the UK lags behind other countries in the uptake of a range of innovative light vehicles for both passenger and freight applications. Examples include electrically-assisted: bicycles, cargo bicycles, push scooters, skateboards, trikes, quadricycles, hoverboards etc. These involve some electrical assistance, as well as some energy expenditure by the user. Hence, we class these vehicles as light electric vehicles for active travel (LEVATs). They enable people to cycle, scoot, skate or otherwise travel more easily or enjoyably than conventional walking or cycling. Their power source provides the opportunity to link to a variety of digital technologies - from unlocking shared vehicles, to 'track-and-trace' systems for delivery companies, to map systems or health feedback tools for users - what ELEVAVTE refers to as 'digital' travel. Innovation at the interface of e-mobility and digital technologies plays a key role for the uptake of these novel modes, with energy, IT and transport industries as key players.

Increased uptake of these vehicles has significant potential for reducing mobility-related energy demand and carbon emissions, especially when users switch from non-active modes such as cars or vans. The aim of this project is to better understand these opportunities - the technological and business options and specifications, where and who they might appeal to, what trips they could be used for, how far they could replace conventional motor vehicle trips - and some of the challenges that accompany them - such as overall energy usage, safety and regulatory issues, digital integration, physical environment design, battery standardisation and behavioural inertia. After developing typologies and technology assessments based on multiple criteria, the empirical end user research will consist of surveys (aiming for 1,200 responses), demonstration days (aiming to engage at least 300 people) and longer trials with at least 60 private individuals in 3 cities in England throughout 2020 and 2021. Quantitative surveys and in-depth interviews will be undertaken with participants before and after usage to understand changes in user perceptions and experience, triangulated with GPS tracking of the trial vehicles and contextual data (e.g. weather, hilliness). As part of the work, we will develop new safety training resources for each mode, drawing on, and adapting, existing UK initiatives and international experience and working towards certified schemes. Freight applications in the logistics industry will be analysed through expert interviews and case studies. A number of technology and demand scenarios will assess the whole lifecycle health and environmental impacts. This will include work with the World Health Organization expert group to extend the HEAT tool (which enables users without expertise in impact assessment to conduct economic assessments of the health impacts of walking or cycling) to include these types of vehicle.

This project is supported by a range of partners - including the three local authorities, Sustrans and the World Health Organization - and will be guided by an advisory panel. We will also engage with a range of industry stakeholders, through the Transport Systems Catapult, Clean Growth UK and other means. We also envisage international engagement in the work, given the rapidly evolving and growing nature of the topic, and the lack of a substantial academic literature on the implications of these innovative light vehicles for energy demand, mobility and climate change.

Planned Impact

The research will principally impact 5 groups outside academia, as follows:

1. Energy Technology Industries
The results relating to life cycle analysis, the battery and charging technologies, and the insights into user engagement and behavioural responses to the vehicles and infrastructure will be of interest to businesses involved with energy and charging. Key findings will feed into design recommendations for the industry to improve the energy efficiency of light electric vehicles, their usability and integration with the electricity system. For example, this could include areas around near-field wireless charging, e.g. informing solutions such as leaning electric scooters against 'smart' lamp posts in town for charging.

2. Transport Technology Industries
The manufacturers and suppliers of the various forms of light electric vehicles considered in ELEVATE will benefit from the systematic insights around these modes. These insights have the capacity to inform the design of their technologies (e.g. by drawing on our typologies of utilisation profiles and behavioural insights), their business models (e.g. considering closer integration with digital elements), and their sales approaches (e.g. considering integration with public policies or fleets). The ELEVATE HEAT tool module will help manufacturers and suppliers in marketing the benefits of their products. The emerging innovation ecosystem of light electronic vehicle manufacturers and suppliers will also benefit from the networking facilitated by the project, for example through stakeholder meetings.

3. Digital Technology Industries
Insights into the close integration between ICT and transport technologies, and the associated design recommendations will be of interest to the digital industry, including technology and service providers. For example, the project might inspire new products that integrate IT use around energy demand/use, for example smart meters, with electric mobility, and do so beyond electric cars, which are currently the main focus in this respect. Many Mobility as a Service companies already operate largely as IT providers, without owning or running fleets. However, they are not often integrated with concerns around energy demand, and project findings should help identify untapped potential for digital innovation in the transport sector around active modes, energy efficiency and new business models for the provision of bundles of energy services. The digital industry will also benefit from the networking opportunities facilitated by ELEVATE.

4. End Users
The project will directly engage with end users as a central element of its workplan. In addition to collecting data from early adopters, ELEVATE will expose non-users to light electric vehicles, particularly through the demonstrators and the trials. This ensures that impact activities and end user engagement are central to the project. End users engaged with the project, and also the public at large, will also benefit from the ride/cycle training developed by ELEVATE.

5. Transport Policy and Planning
The industry and policy recommendations developed by the project will ensure that all policy-related insights reach a national, regional and local policy audience, maximising impact on transport planning, spatial planning, smart city agendas and also public health agendas. Impacts can be expected in the form of better designed behavioural interventions, infrastructure planning, pricing and national and local regulations to facilitate and accelerate uptake. Policy makers and practitioners will also be able to draw on the ride/cycle training developed by the project. The ELEVATE HEAT tool element we will develop (specific to active modes around light electric vehicles) will reach a global audience through its WHO affiliation, dissemination and use in over 50 countries, leading to potential international impact on policy makers, with positive impacts on energy demand and carbon emissions.


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