Government-led initiatives designed to cut carbon emissions and reduce air pollution in cities, though well-intentioned, often come under fire from those who stand the most to gain from them — the public. Clean air is a high priority for government and citizens alike, but the burden of measures such as carbon taxes on vehicles that don’t meet certain environmental criteria often penalize citizens who commute and don’t have the resources to expend on the purchase of a less-polluting hybrid or electric vehicle — or inner city rent.
Like many other cities across Europe and the UK — including London, who surpassed its annual pollution limits within the first week of 2017 — Oslo’s air quality has been anything but stellar so far this winter, leading the Norwegian capital to put into place a temporary ban on diesel vehicles in an attempt to quickly reduce pollution levels.
Keen to further shift away from cars, Oslo has created a new incentive program to encourage citizens to embrace cleaner forms of transport. The scheme offers up to $1,2000 to residents to purchase electric cargo bikes — bikes equipped with electric motors that allow them to transport heavier loads via trailers or baskets. All residents, regardless of income, are eligible to apply for the funds.
This is the second scheme Oslo has created to encourage people to adopt bicycle transit. Last winter, the city rolled out a similar program, offering residents up to $600 to buy standard e-bikes. Its apparent success led the city council to take the scheme to the next level.
The initiative builds upon Norway’s ambitious $1 billion bike infrastructure extension plan, whose high-quality bike paths the government hopes will attract more riders. But even with improved infrastructure, Oslo’s climate and hilly landscape still pose an obstacle to a successful modal shift. This is part of what makes a cargo bike solution so attractive. Not only do they make the landscape more manageable for riders, but they open up a number of practical opportunities, like grocery shopping, commuting or deliveries.
The city has put aside 5 million kroner for the project, with 2 million reserved for businesses and organizations and 3 million for private citizens. This works out to about 500 to 1,000 electric cargo bikes in total. While the impact of the program will likely be modest at first, the ultimate goal is to expose the public to a form of transit that is currently underutilized in hopes that more people may adopt it after seeing its advantages.
While local government is enthusiastic about the program, there has been some pushback. With electric cargo bikes currently costing between $2,400 to $6,000, it is likely that poorer Osloers will unlikely be able to take advantage of the grant. Some of Oslo’s wealthiest residents have already applied and received the grant, further making the case for skeptics that the program is a subsidy for the rich.
The validity of these concerns is well-founded, and more could indeed be done to ensure that programs are more accessible to those lower on the economic totem pole, but despite this, it is clear that both city and country are resolved to revolutionize its transit.