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The French are trading old cars for e-bikes – should we?

France recently joined the list of European nations running schemes to get people out of old, polluting cars and on to green, healthy e-bikes.

The French National Assembly approved a scheme in April that offers residents a grant of €2,500 (A$3,943) to buy an electric bike if they hand over their old car for scrap metal.

This initiative not only gets older, exhaust-belching automobiles off the streets, but also replaces them with an alternative that is better for the environment, economy and health of the population.

"For the first time it is recognised that the solution is not to make cars greener, but simply to reduce their number," said Olivier Schneider of the French Federation of Bicycle Users.

Similar schemes are already underway in other parts of Europe.

In Finland, a €1,000 rebate helped get 2,000 new e-bikes and 1,000 new low emission cars on the road, and funded 100 public transport tickets.

In Lithuania, trading old cars for e-bikes proved popular, with 9,000 people applying for the program which offered €1,000 subsidies on e-bikes, scooters, mopeds or public transit tickets.

One of the challenges for these ‘cash for clunkers’ schemes is ensuring they are cost-effective. An evaluation of the 2009 US Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) scheme found that, while it achieved a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the public cost per metric ton of avoided emissions was well over $US600.

One study also showed that of the 0.68 million transactions that occurred under the $3 billion program, new vehicle sales increased only by about 0.37 million, implying that approximately 45 percent of the spending went to consumers who would have purchased a new vehicle anyway.

But could adding a bike bonus as seen in Europe prove to be a net positive in Australia, with sustainability increased, road safety increased, and more people achieving positive health outcomes?

Should we be giving this a go Down Under?

We have an aging fleet of motor vehicles, with the average age of Australia's cars increasing to 10.4 years, and no strong regulatory, policy or market forces to drive fleet renewal. 

A cash for clunkers scheme seems like a worthy renewal policy that could help Australia meet our Paris Agreement target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030 (from 2005 levels). Transport alone currently accounts for almost 20% of Australia's emissions. 

Following years of campaigning from Bicycle Network, we have seen the ATO extend fringe benefit tax consequences to employees providing their employees an e-bike under a salary packaging arrangement.

But Bicycle Network’s more ambitious policy suggestions, such as a pay-to-ride to work scheme, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

What do you think about trading clunkers for e-bikes? Please join the discussion in the comments on Facebook and Twitter as we investigate this further.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.