United Kingdom: Green number plates and £2m for e-cargo bikes

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The United Kingdom's Department of Transportation has announced two new initiatives. The first, in the form of a consultation, will solicit views on whether green, zero-emission cars should be given a special, green number plate. The second initiative takes the form of additional funding to encourage uptake of clean, last mile delivery vehicles (e-cargo bikes). 

Number plates with a hint of Behavioural Economics

The consultation should provide the government with opinions on two aspects of the new number plates. These include their design and positioning: they could be all-green or include a green symbol; the refreshed number plates could go on the front, back, or both sides of the vehicle. 

Adding a green badge of honour to these new clean vehicles is a brilliant way of helping increase awareness of their growing popularity in the UK, and might just encourage people to think about how one could fit into their own travel routine.
— Chris Grayling - Transport Secretary

The proposal, which is inspired by a number of countries that operate the same system of signalling the zero-emissions nature of their green vehicles (e.g. Norway, Canada, and China), has been welcomed by the Behavioural Insights Team, a non-profit partly owned by the UK Government. The British government has often incorporated behavioural insights into its work in order to "nudge" people towards specific action, such as choosing foods with lower fat content.

In this case, the existence of a green number plate is should take advantage of the observational selection bias: the striking colour of the number plate will make it more likely that other road users notice it and then actually see it every time they encounter it; this can give people the impression that ultra low-emissions cars are more prevalent than they actually are. Such impressions can then make people feel "left out" of the green movement and thus encourage them to consider purchasing a green vehicle.  

Green plates would be more noticeable to road users, and this increased attraction can help normalise the idea of clean vehicles, highlighting the changing social norms around vehicle ownership.
— Elisabeth Costa - Director of the Behavioural Insights Team

Last-mile deliveries powered by e-bikes

The government is supporting e-cargo bikes through a £2 million initiative. The purpose of the new funding is to encourage uptake of the new type of delivery vehicle over the reigning king of deliveries: the diesel van.

The push is for an alternative to the diesel vans is based on clear statistics. In the past year, online spending in the United Kingdom increased by 15.3% - the additional deliveries of online shopping had a concomitant effect on road traffic: Van traffic increased by 4.7%, reaching a staggering 49.5 billion vehicle miles in 2016. London is widely considered one of the most congested and polluted cities in the world - air pollution has reached illegal levels since 2010. Nitrogen dioxide in particular, is considered a huge problem in Central London: some areas manage to reach their annual levels of acceptable nitrogen dioxide pollution in just five days, as the Guardian revealed. Nitrogen Dioxide is mostly produced by diesel vehicles. 

Encouraging electric delivery bikes on to our city streets will cut traffic and improve air quality, and will show how these vehicles have the potential to play an important role in the zero emission future of this country.
— Jesse Norman - Minister for Low Emission Vehicles


This is not the first time London experiments with e-cargo bikes. Last year's Innovation Challenge led to the creation of Micro Hub for e-cargo bikes in Islington, which then enabled grocery delivery in partnership with the local supermarket chain, Sainsbury's. The results of the programme showed that almost 97% of the orders could be fulfilled in a single e-cargo bike drop

Both initiatives are part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, an attempt by the UK Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make travel safer, improve accessibility, and present enormous economic opportunities for the country. 


Photo Credit: Dimitry B. / Flickr