ITF largely overlooks LEVs in report on Better Rural Mobility

875 days ago

11 minutes

The International Transport Forum is an intergovernmental organisation with 63 member countries. It acts as a think tank for transport policy and organises the Annual Summit of transport ministers, this year from 18 to 20 May. ITF claims to be the only global body that covers all transport modes.  Recently, ITF has published a new report, “Innovations for Better Rural Mobility”. Despite the claim that ITF covers all transport modes, light electric vehicles (LEVs) are largely overlooked in the report. That is all the more a pity because there is quite some attention for cycling and active travel. An excellent opportunity was missed to include light, electric vehicles other than (e)bicycles.

Below, we quote the most relevant excerpts from the report that refer to (e)bicycles, active mobility and micromobility. If these passages had been written with the entire spectrum of light electric vehicles available in mind, the authors would undoubtedly have attributed a much more important role to these LEVs in their report. LEVA-EU will address ITF about this shortcoming.

The full report is here: https://bit.ly/33z2gcg

Executive summary: what we recommend  

Increase Central government funding for shared and active travel in rural areas.  

A significant proportion of trips in rural areas are under eight kilometres (e.g. 60% in German small towns and villages) and can be made without a conventional motorised vehicle. The potential for shifting to bicycles, and particularly electrically assisted bicycles, for shorter distances has not yet been fully exploited. Rural mobility funds or Covid-19 recovery stimulus packages could be a way to fund rental and repair schemes and improve safe active mobility infrastructure outside cities, including within villages and to connect to mobility hubs.  

Chapter: The innovative rural mobility landscape 

Active Mobility  

Cycling in rural areas is valuable as a standalone mode of transport or to bridge the last mile(s) to access branch services and the core transport network. Cycling is suitable for short journeys of up to 5-10 kilometres (e.g. paths between municipalities or from a small settlement to the neighbouring village) and for accessing stations and mobility hubs. Common obstacles to bicycle use in rural areas are the lack of safe cycling routes, longer distances and uphill stretches. Long distances are the main obstacle for walking, as well as missing or unsafe walking routes in villages. There are a number of measures that can address these issues, such as the provision of quality rural pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure (e.g. Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States). Other promising approaches include (e-)bike rental schemes, user education and government or employer incentives. 


Providing safe infrastructure is key for making active mobility more attractive in rural areas. Mobility survey data show that safety, the amount of car traffic and the lack of separated lanes are key reasons why people do not travel by bike in rural areas.  

In the past, funding has been typically focused on infrastructure for motorised vehicles and there has been little investment for active mobility. Consequently, few tools are available for the prediction of demand and active mobility infrastructure planning in rural areas. There may be important suppressed demand for more active mobility in rural areas, specifically for short trips to school or local shops. 

Pedestrian and bicycle planning has traditionally been analysed from an urban design perspective, rather than a rural or regional planning perspective (Aytur et al., 2011). Many national cycling plans do not include objectives and targets for rural cycling. However, there is a need and desire in many rural areas and small towns to make active travel safer. In 2021, Ireland put in place its first ever major active travel investment  programme dedicated to rural areas (EUR 72.8 million), which exceeded the entire 2019 national funding for walking and cycling (National Transport Authority, 2021). The German national cycling plan released in April 2021 recommends doubling annual investment by 2030 compared to 2020, to reach an average expenditure of around EUR 30 per person per year, although actual spending commitments have not yet matched this recommendation (Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, 2021). 

Spatial integration of active mobility with other transport modes is important to allow for intermodal travel between rural areas and cities. Connections to mobility hubs, as well as bicycle parking and storage facilities at bus and train stations are effective tools to support first-/last-mile cycling (e.g. Flanders, Belgium and Groningen-Drenthe, Netherlands). The National Cycling Strategy in Germany puts emphasis on integrating cycling needs in regional planning, planning law and building regulations. 

Integration into a broader national or international cycling network (e.g. Eurovelo or the United States Bicycle Route System) can be an important stimulator for tourism and regional economic development, especially as travel preferences and restrictions due to Covid-19 have shifted tourism demand towards local sustainable leisure activities. The tourism promotion potential of cycling routes was examined in some areas of Germany. In areas where cycling infrastructure was considerably improved, turnover growth of up to 40% was observed for hotels and restaurants, while tax revenues, employment rates and the regional image also improved (Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, 2021). In addition, the availability of cycle racks should be considered in tenders for public transport vehicles in tourist areas. (Temporary) free transport on public buses or trains can also support bicycle use.  

Where technical capacity and knowledge are in short supply, some governments are proposing guidance and design resources for setting up rural and small town interconnected networks of cycling and walking facilities, complete with implementation examples (e.g. Federal Highway Administration, 2016). Cerema in France, proposes special guidance and technical training to develop local cycling policy (Cerema, 2021a). The German Transport Ministry is developing a simple toolbox for bicycle traffic planning, targeted to small communities in rural areas. 

E-bikes and other forms of micromobility  

In areas made up of sparse settlements, the use of e-bikes can significantly lower the physical effort required to cross longer distances and hilly areas. E-cargo-bikes or e-trikes, open tricycles or tricycles protected by an aerodynamic body and e-scooters are solutions that are being used more frequently in cities, but could also be adapted to the needs of rural areas, provided that safe infrastructure is in place. 

The electrical propulsion used by these types of micromobility allows for much higher average speeds than their manually powered counterparts and, accordingly, they are effective alternatives for shopping trips and local deliveries where distances are relatively short. For example, in German small towns and villages, over 60% of trips are less than eight kilometres and many people could potentially cover these distances without a motorised vehicle (Öko-Institut, 2020). In the Netherlands, most rural trips fall between the range of 5-15 kilometres, making the e-bike a practical travel option. 

E-bike users might find it more enjoyable to cycle in less densely populated areas. Through GPS tracking and surveys, Plazier, Weitkamp and van den Berg (2017) found that where safe infrastructure was available, assisted cycling in rural environments was experienced more positively by study participants, allowing for higher average speeds due to less interrupted flows. Modelling using spatial microsimulation in the United Kingdom shows that e-bike carbon reduction capability for rural areas tends to be higher than in large cities. Authors find that CO2 saving capability per person are highest (over 750kg CO2 per person per annum) for residents of rural areas and the rural urban fringe. For the highest impact, policy makers should therefore consider prioritising cycling schemes in areas outside of cities. 

Multimodal interchange is an important lever for increasing e-bike commuting. Research to evaluate the feasibility of an e-bikesharing scheme in the Slovenian municipality of Velenje has focused on the modal interchange between both shared and private bikes, and fixed and demand-responsive bus lines in the form of shared (e-)bike stations and personal bike storage. 

A digital tool was developed to integrate registration, bookings, payments and information for its semiflexible DRT and bikesharing schemes (Bruzzone, Scorrano and Nocera, 2021). In 2012, the regional mobility authority, Münsterland in Germany, started renting e-bikes in the rural municipality of Mettingen to improve users’ access to public transport by adapting bus stops into small mobility hubs with bicycle storage. In 2012 alone, this led to a 20% increase in ridership of the fast bus line. The project was subsequently extended to neighbouring municipalities. Between 2012 and 2019, the number of public transport subscribers increased tenfold in Mettingen alone and doubled when counting in the neighbouring communities (Leistikow, 2019). 

Only a small proportion of rural commuters use bicycles. Broader uptake of active mobility in rural areas often requires radical behaviour change. In Denmark, long-distance commuter cyclists (cycling more than 5 kilometres from home to work) tend to have greater incomes and higher education levels than other commuter cyclists (Hansen and Nielsen, 2014). Other user groups in rural, small regional towns and peri-urban areas may need additional education and encouragement, as well as incentives to cycle longer distances. 

Quality routing information and public awareness can increase bicycle usage. In-depth surveys in Hennef (Germany), identified a lack of information about the existing offers for cycling in peri-urban and rural areas, both with regard to the existence of individual routes and the quality or condition of those routes. An active mobility map was developed and led to a 5% increase in cycling trips among total households in the area of study. The scheme also included e-bike rental and evaluation indicated that over half of the trips by e-bike replaced trips by car and 13% were new cycling trips for leisure purposes (INCLUSION project, 2020a). 

Promising approaches for electric micromobility in rural areas include financial incentives by employers or the government to support citizens in the purchase of their own e-bike, as well as offering low-cost rental subscriptions. Monthly or yearly subscriptions of e-bikes, with maintenance included in the lease, should be favoured over free-floating or station-based shared bikes. The latter can prove costly in rural areas, as there is less demand and assets need to be repositioned over larger distances. Outside of large agglomerations, successful e-bike rental schemes between private and public partners have been tested in the Cairngorm National Park (Scotland) and in the De l’Oust à Brocéliande community in Brittany (France), which operated jointly with a local infrastructure programme to improve bicycle safety (France Mobilités, 2019). A particularity of the Cairngorm e-bike rental was the partnership with local bike shops to generate a positive impact on the local economy (INCLUSION project, 2020b). Station-based bikesharing has been tested to connect rural parishes with the town centre and train station of Águeda (Portugal), a scheme that benefitted from the proximity of large bicycle manufacturers (SMARTA, 2019b). 

Policy takeaways: Active mobility 

  • Ensure that objectives for rural cycling are fixed in national cycling plans, including targets for investment and modal shares.  
  • Provide nationwide or regional active mobility support (e.g. through adequate transport infrastructure funding or tourism promotion schemes).  
  • Set up co-ordination units to achieve seamless regional and national cycling networks. Promote the integration of local cycling networks into a broader national or international cycling network (e.g. Eurovelo) to achieve side-benefits for local tourism.  
  •  Collect data as a basis for cycling investment in rural areas. For example, the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) for England and Wales provides an evidence base to inform cycling infrastructure investment. 15 Such tools can also inform (e-)bike rental and promotion schemes. These should be focused on areas outside of cities, where topographic conditions are favourable and car use is high.  
  • Promote commuter cycling in rural areas outside cities and towns through better modal interchange and bicycle parking and storage at stations or mobility hubs. Integrate cycling routes, travel times and information on bicycle transport into multimodal trip planning apps to inform commuters of cycling options and routes.  
  • Implement financial incentives to support citizens in the purchase of their own (e-)bike and offer low-cost long-term rental subscriptions.  
  • Encourage behavioural change through education and marketing of active mobility. For example, increased data on walking and cycling routes with digital mapping tools can help open active routes that can otherwise go unknown (UK DfT, 2021). 

Conclusions and recommendations 

Increase central government funding for shared and active travel in rural areas 

A significant proportion of trips in rural areas (e.g. 60% in German small towns and villages) are under eight kilometres and can be made without a motorised vehicle. Bikesharing schemes, particularly e-bike rental schemes that include repair services, have a high potential as long as the right infrastructure is in place. Rural mobility funds or Covid-19 recovery stimulus packages could be a way to fund safe active mobility infrastructure outside cities, including to connect to mobility hubs. Better modelling tools, such as those developed in the United Kingdom, can help inform authorities of the areas with most potential and need for active mobility support. Shared and active travel should also be a key component of the hub-and-spoke network connecting cities and rural areas, and as such, should form part of a countrywide or regionwide basic accessibility policy. In addition, policy makers should promote the integration of local cycling networks into a broader national or international cycling network (e.g. Eurovelo) to achieve side-benefits for local tourism and should ensure bicycles can be transported on local trains and buses. 

Annick Roetynck

Annick is the Manager of LEVA-EU, with decades of experience in two-wheeled and light electric mobility.

View all posts

Campaign success

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

Member profile

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.