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The death of a transport regime? The future of electric bicycles and transportation pathways for sustainable mobility in China

Journal Article

This paper has an empirical and theoretical focus: to empirically assess electric bicycle development in China, and to theoretically test and apply the “Multi-Level Perspective” on transitions and innovation. We examine the electric bicycle (e-bike) sector in China to understand the future prospects for urban mobility and the interaction of e-bikes as a form of vernacular technology within the existing transport regime. For this purpose, we address the following questions: 1) What factors will influence the future adoption of e-bikes? 2) How are alternative travel modes evaluated against e-bikes? 3) Will e-bikes become a popular sustainable mobility mode in the future or only an intermediary mode to cars? To provide answers, we conducted a survey in Nanjing city in order to assess the attitude of e-bike users, and other mode users (e.g. pedestrians; bicycle users). We then analyse responses from this survey through the lens of sociotechnical transitions theory, notably the “Multi-Level Perspective” notions of niches, regimes, and landscape. The paper explores the influential factors underpinning future e-bike adoption and the decision-making calculus behind alternative mode choices. Generalised Linear Models are used to investigate the factors influencing future e-bike adoption and alternative mode choices based on the survey data. We conclude that e-bikes are an intermediary mode on Nanjing’s motorisation pathway, and that they therefore may eventually reflect a dying regime.

Find out more about Benjamin Sovacool and his work at CIED.