UK Plans To Ban Gas Motorcycles Aren't New, But There's More To It

2 months ago - 20 May 2024, rideapart
UK Plans To Ban Gas Motorcycles Aren't New, But There's More To It
The Department For Transport sought public comment on a potential ICE motorbike ban in 2022. It's 2024. Where did all the comments go?

A new report from the UK publication The Telegraph cites unnamed industry sources as saying a new policy would effectively ban the sale of new gasoline-powered motorcycles as of 2040.

More specifically, it says that motorbikes classed as L3 and above, including scooters, would be affected. The report adds that it's not clear whether Downing Street, the UK's version of The White House, has officially adopted the policy and signed off on it at this point, and gives no further details.

So naturally, it's gotten the motorcycle-loving internet in a bit of a tizzy, and I wanted to get to the bottom of what's really happening here.

Are these fears overblown and hyperbolic? Or is there truth to these claims?

I dug in to find out, so follow along, as things aren't what they appear to be. 

How We Got Here
As a bit of background, RideApart has been covering proposed combustion motorcycle bans around the world for several years now. Even if we don't ride in a specific place every day, bans and the discussions surrounding them affect our greater global rider community. So, we tend to keep a close eye on them and report our findings to you.

In 2020, the UK Department for Transport issued its first Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge report, which we covered in detail. In it, the DfT talked about moving forward a proposed new combustion vehicle sales ban to 2035; previously, it had been set at 2040.

At that time, this report specifically called out motorcycles, unlike some other similar reports issued in other geographies. The specific language used was, and I quote, “From motorcycles to [heavy goods vehicles], all road vehicles will be zero emission. Technological advances, including new modes of transport and mobility innovation, will change the way vehicles are used.”

An updated version of the DfT report titled slightly differently as Decarbonising Transport: A Better, Greener Britain was released later in 2021. It gave more concrete recommendations for "new non-zero emission road vehicles," recommending that sales of all such vehicles be phased out completely by 2040. It included specific talk regarding the following categories: Cars and Vans (under 3.5t), Heavy Goods Vehicles (above 3.5t), Powered Two Wheelers, Buses, and Coaches.

Notably, for all categories besides Cars and Vans listed above, this version of the DfT's report specified that it would undertake a consultation period (otherwise known as a period of public comment) to better address the proper actions to take in those categories.

Fast-forward a year later to July 2022 and for those unfamiliar the UK government, it regularly employs a public comment period ahead of proposed legislation changes. While it doesn't do this for everything, it then proceeded to announce an official comment period for a potential ICE motorbike ban.

The period was scheduled to run from July 2022 through September 2022, after which point the results would then be gathered and eventually made public in a follow-up document, accessible (like everything else) on the UK government website. 

Now Entering A Feedback Loop?
On the page soliciting comment, the DfT proposed dates of 2035 at the latest for all L-category vehicles, or 2030 for L1, L2, L3e-A1, L6, and L7 vehicles. It also mentioned plans for subsequent discussions regarding whether alternative fuels could or should play a role in its powered two-wheeler discussions in the future.

It's now May 13, 2024 as I write this. While governments as a whole are often known to move at a glacial pace, I think it's worth noting that there have so far been zero updates about the feedback received during the open consultation period on this matter. 

"We are continuing to analyse the feedback we have received. A full government response will be published in due course," the current page reads.

But just how long does it take to perform an analysis of this feedback? Surely it doesn't take the better part of two years. Was someone hoping that if they just stayed quiet long enough, the entire matter would just go away?

Now, we know there are a lot of riders in the UK. The UK Motorcycle Industry Association recorded a total of 113,589 total motorbike registrations (including mopeds, motorcycles, trikes, and scooters) throughout the 2023 calendar year. The most recent DfT decarbonization report cited a statistic of 1.4 million motorbikes being licensed in the UK in 2020. That's 'million' with an 'm.'

Any way you slice it, that's a lot of bikes.

Bikers aren't a monolith, with a multiplicity of opinions regarding just about every topic under the sun. While we're sure that not every registered rider took the time to comment during the comment period, it's a safe bet that many did. And probably also convinced non-riding family and friends to join in. (What can we say, we're a talkative lot.)

Electric Conversion Sidebar Enters The Chat
On May 9, 2024, the DfT announced an Open Call for Evidence on the topic Registering Historic, Classic, Rebuilt Vehicles And Vehicles Converted To Electric. The call mentions the word "motorcycle" or "motorcycles" no less than 34 times throughout as it seeks to gather information about the possibility of changing its current guidance for such vehicles.

The call for evidence opened officially on May 9, 2024 and will run through July 4, 2024. If you're in the UK and would like to respond, hit the link above to find out more.

Silence Breeds Unease
This is neither the first nor the last time that a body's overlong silence on a matter will have done nothing but stoke the anxieties of any group that feels it's in the crosshairs of the matter at hand. 

The UK federal government has seen plenty of unrest in recent years. While the next UK election date hasn't yet been announced as of May 13, 2024, it's widely expected to happen before the end of the calendar year.

Ahead of any upcoming UK elections, the UK-based motorcyclist advocacy organization, Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), publicly and loudly cut ties with the Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations at the end of April. MAG had previously been a member of FEMA for many years.

The reason? While there may have been more than one, the primary reason is that MAG felt that FEMA was letting governments roll right over the wants and desires of the majority of riders to not abandon ICE bikes entirely in favor of electrics. MAG states publicly that it believes electrics have a place, but that they're not the only answer to lowering emissions.

Instead, as MAG outlines in what it refers to as its Move On Motorcycling manifesto [sic], it wants whatever next government is elected in the UK to see motorcycling "as an integral part of sustainable transport in the UK."

It then proceeds to outline several wants relevant to the riding community. These range from getting rid of the proposed combustion ban to reviewing vehicle theft sentencing guidelines and maximizing road access for motorbikes.

Sticky Situation With Multiple Moving Parts
It's unclear at this point if what's alleged in that Telegraph report from unnamed sources will come to fruition, or whether it's simply a cynical attempt to gin up clicks as it takes advantage of the understandable unease of riders in the UK right now. 

What is clear, however, is that the DfT needs to announce something concrete, and soon, because this issue clearly is not going away. And there are far too many stakeholders with skin in the game to simply sweep UK riders under the rug. 

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