Home > Environment > Decarbonizing transport

Decarbonizing transport

January 18th, 2016

I’ll be talking on this topic to the Victorian Transport Economic Forum on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 from 5pm at the Public Transport Victoria Corporate Centre, 750 Collins Street, Docklands. I’m still formulating my thoughts, so I’ll be happy to read those of anyone who’d like to comment. Here are a few observations to get started

* The process of decarbonizing electricity supply is well under way and, I think, just about unstoppable. To some extent at least, this process provides a template for an approach to transport. In particular, there’s a close analogy between cars and coal. Both have negative local effects (air pollution, congestion, negative amenity and so on) that haven’t been properly taken into account, in addition to generating CO2 emissions. Focusing on the local effects may be a more effective way of reducing CO2 emissions than attacking the problem directly

* By contrast, although we have the technology to greatly reduce the use of carbon-based fuels in transport, we haven’t made nearly enough progress, and it’s not clear what is the best way to go. Should the focus be on improving existing modes of transport (for example, with electric cars), or in switching modes (public transport instead of private) or in reducing the need for travel (with urban design, telepresence and so on).

* Relatedly, is it better to rely on prices, direct controls such as vehicle fuel efficiency standards, or on some other approach?

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  1. Bernard J.
    January 18th, 2016 at 18:39 | #1

    The process of decarbonising electricity is a reflection of the physical reality of power use on this planet. In many people’s minds, however, power use seems to be mostly adjustable in the context of energy in the home… but transport, and especially personal transport, remains a sacred cow.

    We could change our transport carbon footprint without destroying our basic “way of life”, but one thing people may need to wrap their heads around is that in the future extravagant personal transport will likely be an indulgence rather than a a trivial thing to be taken for granted.

    Effective public transport, on the other hand…

  2. Tim Macknay
    January 18th, 2016 at 18:54 | #2

    @Bernard J.
    I take it that’s your somewhat oxymoronic way of saying that you would prefer a focus on switching transport modes, or reducing the need for travel, rather than decarbonising existing transport modes (i.e. electric cars)

  3. Bernard J.
    January 18th, 2016 at 19:11 | #3

    Tim, not necessarily.

    In fact, I would strongly argue for all of your suggestions.

  4. Geoff Edwards
    January 18th, 2016 at 20:37 | #4

    Prof John

    1. The climate challenge is of the nature of a global emergency and when the seriousness of it dawns upon our political leaders, the timescale of the necessary responses will be much shorter than that necessary to electrify the vehicle fleet. In short, there isn’t time for an orderly transition to a new mode of transport.

    2. If transport is required, this suggests that goods or people are not in the places that they want to be ought to be. Better urban design, more coherent policies of decentralisation applied consistently, and abandonment of the free trade religion built upon transporting goods that countries can produce themselves, are steps that can and should be taken to reduce the need for transport.

    3. Although consumption of carbon fuel is the most prominent limiting factor, it is not the only one. There is probably not enough copper to electrify the world’s vehicle fleet, without mentioning other vital minerals. CSIRO and UTS Sydney have produced some solid analyses of “peak minerals” which for many of the materials necessary for generation of renewables is likely to occur within a current planning horizon.

    4. The current low prices for these ingredients are taken by cornucopians as indicating that there is an abundant supply. Rather, they indicate that the financial commodity markets are disconnected from the geological balance sheets and are a very poor proxy for geological shortages.

    5. The richest and most accessible ore bodies have already been mined and the remaining ones will require progressively more fossil fuels to exploit them. This will increase the dilemma and narrow the range of options. Go to item 2 above.

  5. Chris O’Neill
    January 18th, 2016 at 20:55 | #5

    The process of decarbonizing electricity supply is well under way

    So well under way, in fact, that growth in atmospheric CO2 is still accelerating.

  6. James Wimberley
    January 18th, 2016 at 20:59 | #6

    1. Congestion is independent of the car technology. Switching from ICEs to evs will not improve it. You want to separate out this factor. The solution is well-known, simple, and politically difficult: pricing. It is running successfully in authoritarian Singapore and democratic London, surviving the transition from Red Ken Livingstone to Tory showman Boris Johnson, so it looks a little more feasible than carbon pricing. It does imply a decent public transport system to take the deterred drivers and limit their resentment.

    2. Add some numbers on the health costs of ICEVs to highlight the urgency. These are huge. Using an OECD report, I guesstimated a total global health saving from a full energy transition (electricity generation plus electrified transport) of $35 trillion to 2060. This is very rough, but certainly in the ballpark. You will need to dig around to estimate the split, but intuitively road transport should account for half the damage, as its pollution is emitted at lung level. Since evs have this double payoff, they deserve a high subsidy for initial deployment, at least France’s 5,000 euro grant.

    3. The third star is surely a false alternative. There is no reason not to pursue both electric buses (already competitive, claim BYD, which has sold thousands in China) and support of electric cars. The current pro-car bias needs to be corrected (see point 1), with for instance more support for cycling (see Copenhagen and Amsterdam), but that is independent of the technology. Electric buses offer a much better ride than diesel ones, so introducing them will have a modest switching effect, as is seen with trams.

    4. On buses, see also the BRT system pioneered in Curutiba in Brazil – dedicated bus track, not just lanes – which is a fraction of the price of underground metros. You need wide streets to begin with. Rio is adding some for the Olympics, with their own elevated sections and tunnels through hills. It’s bot necessarily an electric system, but lends itself perfectly well to the change.

    5. It’s noteworthy that ev subsidies have not run into the same opposition as those for solar and wind generation. Tesla is already a big and influential company. The legacy carmakers are all more or less hedged, with varying degrees of commitment; they don’t oppose ev subsidies, The equally influential electric utilities stand to gain – ev charging is an ideal new market, mostly off-peak and available for demand management. The oil companies should be using their lobbying power to block the transition, but do not seem to have woken up to the threat, or they have their hands full.

    6. The learning curve for batteries is impressively steep. EV subsidies won’t be needed for more than a decade. As with solar, they should be designed to taper off as costs fall, giving predictability to customers and manufacturers.

  7. Ivor
    January 18th, 2016 at 21:13 | #7

    is it better to rely on prices, direct controls such as vehicle fuel efficiency standards, or on some other approach?

    I would try planning incorporating both non-profit prices and direct controls to replace air travel with electric trains where ever passenger numbers and expenditures provide a large slab of the funding.

    Currently over 20 million passegers p.a. go between Sydney and Melbourne. This releases around 2 million tonnes CO2.

    If a fund was constructed based on $10 per passenger trip, this would produce a flow of revenue each year that, over time, would fund construction of electric trains from centre of Sydney to centre of Melbourne.

    $10 on average ticket price of $200 would be 5% and this is the sort of thing Western nations need to do if they are to show any real effort to reduce carbon emissions.

  8. conrad
    January 18th, 2016 at 21:46 | #8

    I think a lot of transport will decarbonize no matter what. Basically, battery and solar prices are getting forever cheaper, and its hard to see why electric cars won’t too. This basically mean anyone who gets a solar/battery system for their house could run their cars more or less for free (which will become a no-brainer in places like Australia — AGL had batteries for under 10K a while ago– pretty good if you pay 5K of electricity bills a year of which only 1K is a grid connection). Having cars that are free to run, are quiet and presumably have motors/parts that won’t wear as fast will beat even cheap petrol. So I think all we need to do is wait for electric car prices to come down, which they inevitably will now people apart from Tesla start thinking about it.

    Of course there are countries that are not set up like Aus or the US where lots of people can stick solar on their roofs, but unless all the other technologies stop it seems hard to see why these won’t end up cheaper than digging up coal or getting gas and all the resources it entails also. Who knows, perhaps one day nuclear fusion will finally become a reality (which I doubt Australia will need).

  9. Brett
    January 19th, 2016 at 04:40 | #9

    If we could decarbonize cars, then that would be easier that trying to shift an entire society’s set of infrastructure to not rely on them anymore (especially in the US). The trick is just getting battery prices down low enough so that electric cars can get acceptable range and recharge speed at the price of, say, a Honda Civic.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be decarbonizing your public infrastructure, too, but it’s already carbon-friendly compared to car driving. The gains aren’t going to be as huge unless you convince tons more people to take public transit.

  10. Ikonoclast
    January 19th, 2016 at 07:25 | #10

    In the short to mid-term, we will have to back electric public transport and electric vehicles as the most likely breakthrough strategy. To this end;

    Immediate Pricing Policies.

    (1) Reduce public transport prices to ensure maximum possible uptake of existing public transport journeys on-peak and off-peak.

    (2) Recoup costs of above by a fuel tax on ICE private passenger vehicles.

    (3) Introduce a congestion tax on private passenger vehicles proportionate to unladen weight.

    (4) Remove the GST from new and used EVs for a trial period of 5 years.

    Mid Term to Long Term Policies

    (1) Commence studies for large electric mass-transit infrastructure projects in all capital cities.

    (2) Commence electric mass-transit infrastructure projects as per study results.

    Sundry Policies

    (1) Commence studies for extensive bikeway projects.

    (2) Commence bikeway projects.

    (3) Permit electric power-assisted bicycles governed to 20 kph on bikeways.

  11. Moz of Yarramulla
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:03 | #11

    I think an “all of the above” approach is needed.

    As recently pointed out on The Conversation people prefer to travel less than an hour to work, and we’re reaching the limits of that with cars now. So decarbonisation via public transport isn’t really avoidable in Sydney and Melbourne at least. It makes sense for government at all levels to encourage high density inner cities even when they can choose not to, because it’s a good solution on a whole range of levels.

    And the technology is definitely there for electric buses, taxis and so on, and obviously inner city trains are already electric. In terms of direct government action it’s relatively easy to make all new state-owned bus purchases electric and build new light and heavy rail where possible. The slightly more politically costly choices around legislation penalising cars need to be made, and I favour congestion charges and carbon taxes mostly because it lets the right wing types pretend people still have a choice (because their backers do still have the choice, money in those amounts doesn’t matter).

    I share the caution that as electric cars become more popular we might need to rework the grid to accommodate them. And I fear that the coal-electricity people will see that overnight charging demand as their salvation when we should instead use it to allow more wind power into the system (smart grid + battery chargers as the demand = very flexible).

    I think there’s room to increase taxes on private cars then cut them for electric ones, so that we shift the person economics of them. Like many people, my workplace is full of people who could use an electric car but don’t either because they cost more, or they have range anxiety. The habit of always thinking about fuel prices and taking advantage of cheap offers to fill the tank represents a huge sunk (labour) cost as well as being a major obstacle to electric car use. You just can’t do that with an electric car, it has to charge overnight So we need a govt push the other way..

    Might be worth mentioning that local government still often have silly rules about car parking, and when they try to get rid of them state government will often overrule them (these two cases, for example). Government should be encouraging inner city people to give up their cars, not forcing them to pay for a car park whether they need it or not.

    The politics are ugly, at least in Sydney, with the Liberal government opposed to public transport in general, but happy to use it to punish idiot Labour voting electorates like mine (buses replaces train for 12+ months while they privatise the rail line).

  12. Ernestine Gross
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:39 | #12

    JQ, I assume you have Australia in mind rather than the world.

    It seems to me policies need to take local conditions into account. ‘Either or policy decisions’ (eg public transport vs private, prices vs quantities), while obviously crucial in specific cases, are not helpful in a general sense. One of the difficulties is to interpret the notion of ‘a location’ in practice. Large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have fuzzy edges where high density areas bleed into rural or semi rural areas. States such as Western Australia and Queensland and the Northern Territories have vastly different population densities to NSW and Victoria. Even the latter are not strictly comparable. Income and wealth distributions are also not even across space.

    Furthermore, I agree with Ivor on international (and regional) trade as well as fast trains as a substitute for air travel. Again, the spacial aspect of the decision problem is important.

    It seems to me a multidisciplinary approach, including an effective – rather than a pretend – community input feature is the way to go.

  13. John Bentley
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:43 | #13

    John I believe that we have 2 problems: [1] the need to decarbonise; and [2] traffic congestion. Doing either one won’t alleviate the other. Unfortunately, both decarbonisation and urban planning in Australia haven’t been our forte.

    I generally agree with my fellow commentators re decarbonisation. However, Geoff Edwards struck a chord with me re traffic congestion. Traffic congestion and urban planning go hand in hand and at present we’re reaping the rewards of years of urban planning mismanagement.

    This mismanagement has manifested itself via high population growth, the exorbitant cost of housing, the lack of local employment opportunities and an ad hoc attitude to infrastructure construction. The example being: we open up a housing estate because population demands it, the estate contains no working opportunities and any transport and/or infrastructure is an appendage to original concept. The result is traffic congestion plus all the other social pitfalls that we have in our society today.

    My conclusion is not only do we need to decarbonise and decongest, but we probably also need to control our growth in population which one of the highest in the OECD. Around 100,000 migrants enter Victoria each year, mostly into Melbourne, plus births over deaths equals a problem that needs to be solved!!

  14. John Quiggin
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:49 | #14

    @Chris O’Neill

    we had a lengthy discussion of this in a recent open thread.

  15. John Quiggin
    January 19th, 2016 at 08:51 | #15

    On buses, see also the BRT system pioneered in Curutiba in Brazil – dedicated bus track, not just lanes

    Is this different from the busways we have in Brisbane? They have certainly been a big success.


  16. Ivor
    January 19th, 2016 at 09:31 | #16

    I do not think that decarbonising is the real problem. This is a misunderstanding.

    The problem is fossil fuel not carbon in general.

    So if we ran a steam train using compressed charcoal from plantation timber – that would have zero CO2 emissions but is 100% carbon based.

  17. Ivor
    January 19th, 2016 at 09:33 | #17

    @John Bentley

    So you probably agree that there are three problems…

    1 – fossil fuels
    2 – congestion
    3 – population

  18. John Bentley
    January 19th, 2016 at 10:03 | #18


  19. chrisl
    January 19th, 2016 at 16:09 | #19

    The problem with fixing congestion in Melbourne via trains is the number of level crossings.there are 171 in the metro area and they cost on average $130 million to upgrade. Sometimes the station needs to be completely rebuilt because they are too close to the level crossing.No extra trains can be added until the level crossings are removed or the traffic would come to a complete standstill.
    A further problem is the lack of capacity in the City Loop. It literally can’t handle any more trains.
    Then there is the problem of rolling stock.The fleet of country trains has been banned from the metro lines because they are not tripping the boom gates.
    Good luck with decarbonisation.

  20. Jim Birch
    January 19th, 2016 at 16:18 | #20

    The big problem for Australia is the way the population has splattered into the available space. Good mass transit requires a high population density, as do a whole range of amenities. In this situation, a lot of people will need personal electric vehicles as mass transit won’t work. Personally, I’d love to see Australian suburbs redeveloped vertically to like five stories, for all sorts of reasons including sustainability but I’m not sure whether this would catch on culturally.

    If the we get the Google/Uber dream – fleets of driverless taxis and minimal private vehicle ownership – then decisions about car size and features will be made more on economic grounds and probably be easier to regulate.

  21. Pete Moran
    January 19th, 2016 at 19:10 | #21

    For generations to come yet, we’ll need an energy dense liquid fuel for transport; trucks, shipping and a hopefully reducting percentage of private car transport.

    The US Navy has tested basic chemistry technology to create jet fuels from seawater using waste heat (energy) from ship-board nuclear reactors. As such, it is a closed CO2 cycle.

    When I asked some chemistry professors at my local why any country couldn’t do it, I just got blank stares.

    Imagine if effort had been invested in this direction than the various sequestration and Ethanol boondoggles.

  22. conrad
    January 19th, 2016 at 19:59 | #22

    @John Quiggin
    Adelaide has the O-bahn which is similar (but smaller) and the buses use rails making it slightly more like a cheap version of light-rail. It works well and led to the revitalization of some suburbs, which are now quite nice places to live. So such transport is a good idea for more than just saving carbon reasons — they have other very worthwhile benefits. Interestingly, people complained about it before it was built, but no-one complains anymore.


  23. John Quiggin
    January 19th, 2016 at 20:34 | #23

    @Pete Moran

    Google produces this rather sceptical assessment as top hit.

  24. January 19th, 2016 at 21:11 | #24

    Look, I hate public transport. You walk to a bus stop in rain or shine, and wait. The bus drives slowly, stopping too often, and when you get to the other end, there is another walk. I’ve used it, whenever the alternatives are worse. But usually the bicycle wins.

    Having said that, I do see a future for it, in the form of electric, self-drive cars. You won’t own one, it will come when you need it, and once you’ve got where you need to be, it will also be on its way. No parking problems. If you are going to work, you can save money by sharing the ride – thus reducing congestion.

    But I’d still rather cycle, unless its raining.

  25. ZM
    January 19th, 2016 at 21:12 | #25

    1. I think more attention paid to the local affects of pollution from cars is a good idea — being outdoors in the city would be much more pleasant with electric vehicles that don’t have exhaust emissions.

    2. I think a combination of all three is the best way to go here — facilitating the take up of electric cars and car sharing, as well as providing better public transport systems, and less need for travel through urban design. There is no reason to just concentrate on one of these, when all three would be good.

    And if you combine 1 and 2 you can convert some road space to public space and linear parts, combined with brining up waterways that have been put into pipes underground. These sorts of things would greatly improve the beauty of cities. Experts have said with self-driving cars the fleet of cars could be reduced to 10-30% of the current fleet.

    3. I’m not sure about regulation and price dis/incentives — but generally I think transport should be integrated with other sustainability planning, so any regulation and price dis/incentives should be for a general transition to more sustainable cities and towns etc not just developed for transport alone.

    Bendigo was recently developing a really innovative Integrated Transport and Land Use Strategy (ITLUS), where community consultation was run side by side with a technical group working on the issues and posibilities : https://www.bendigo.vic.gov.au/Services/Planning/Strategic_Planning/Current_Projects/Integrated_Transport_and_Land_Use_Strategy_ITLUS#.Vp4PCzan2b8

  26. January 19th, 2016 at 21:21 | #26

    I am always horrified by otherwise seemingly reasonable people suggesting that electric vehicles are the solution to transport emissions. It seems to me that people can have no idea of the task facing us if they say things like that. I suppose I am also influenced by working in public health and being aware of the massive health problems caused by sedentary life styles, which EVs would only perpetuate.

    However my main concern is why do people want to cling to cars? Surely you can see the ludicrousness of driving that large piece of metal, plastic etc all over the place, usually to convey one person (for commuter trips at least) to a place that is readily accessible by public transport, bike or walking? And by doing so you are also requiring massive amounts of concrete and road surfacing. As I say, it seems ludicrous.

    Interestingly, many young people in Melbourne (at least inner city Melbourne) apparently aren’t all that interested in driving now – they prefer to use PT partly I think because they can use their smart phones. It is certainly infinitely less boring than being stuck in a car in a traffic jam.

    For those not familiar with Melbourne, the latest proposal here from the roads lobby is to widen Punt Rd. It is criminal irresponsibility.

    In other words, I am strongly suggesting that the absolute priority must be transport modes – getting cars off the road and increasing PT, walking and cycling. To use an analogy that JQ would understand, suggesting that electric vehicles can solve the problems is similar to suggesting that nuclear power can solve our energy problems – it’s a solution offered by people who don’t really want change.

  27. Ikonoclast
    January 19th, 2016 at 21:34 | #27

    @John Brookes

    I hated Brisbane’s buses but loved Brisbane’s electric commuter trains which I used almost exclusively for getting to work in the CBD for about 30 years. I had something like a 35 min journey each way; perfect for reading.

    Just one of many titles I can recall reading on the train: “Does God Exist” by Hans Kung – I was dying for someone to ask “Well, does he?” so that I could answer, “Don’t know. I haven’t read the last chapter yet.”

  28. January 19th, 2016 at 21:49 | #28

    Hmm I realised after I wrote my previous comment that if you’re not familiar with Melbourne, you probably wouldn’t know about Punt Rd either. Not worth explaining it all, so please take my word for it that this is another mad roads lobby ‘climate change – what’s that?’ idea. They are nothing if not persistent, and they have some wonderful creative accounting ideas.

    For example the proposal to build the new East-west freeway under the previous state government estimated it would take 27 minutes off a commuter journey. A Greens member (former Mayor of one of the affected areas) timed the journey on the existing roads that were to be replaced and found it took only 22 minutes! (see story

  29. January 19th, 2016 at 21:53 | #29

    I think within PT there are modes that people like more or less – trains and trams are popular here but buses aren’t. However in Adelaide as someone pointed out above, buses are more acceptable, especially with the O-Bahn.

  30. Ikonoclast
    January 19th, 2016 at 22:06 | #30


    As a bit of an EV fan, I began by bridling at your statement. By the end of your argument I had to admit your impeccable logic. The personal auto for the masses, even electric, has to go extinct. The production, consumption and infrastructure implications are beyond all feasible, sustainable bounds for a world of 7 billion plus.

  31. James Wimberley
    January 19th, 2016 at 22:51 | #31

    @John Quiggin
    It’s the same. Curitiba was first, in 1974. The credit goes to the architect-politician Jaime Lerner.

  32. James Wimberley
    January 19th, 2016 at 22:53 | #32

    “The problem with fixing congestion in Melbourne via trains is the number of level crossings.there are 171 in the metro area and they cost on average $130 million to upgrade.”

  33. Tim Macknay
    January 19th, 2016 at 23:00 | #33

    ‘Decarbonising’ is shorthand. It’s generally understood that the problem is largely one of fossil fuels.

  34. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 05:02 | #34

    @James Wimberley

    Get rid of the cars and there will be no level crossings! Alternatively, build an Underground or a Metro. Montreal has a surprising amount of underground as both Metro and underground malls and walkways. One might say that is because of Montreal’s winters but snow and cold are not the only rationales for building underground malls and a Metro. Finding new CBD space and reducing congestion are also good reasons.

    In Brisbane’s case, I hope all the underground car tunnels are actually of adequate size, shape and situation to convert into the first stages of a true Metro and connect them to existing electrified rail. That might be the best use for them long-term.

  35. BilB
    January 20th, 2016 at 05:33 | #35

    Hi John,

    Decarbonising transport will require some imagination and some revolutionary regulation or even deregulation. To kick off interest in utilizing electric power for transport the greatest impact can be made at the lowest cost end, but at this level we have already failed due through ridiculous over regulation.

    In the recent 2 two years standards have been set for the powering of electric bikes with the overflow into other forms of low speed personal transport. For some bizarre reason a power level of 240 watts has been take as being the highest level of power assist available to people in public spaces and this is only available to them if they are providing additional power personally. WTF is all I have to say about this level of safety fetishist stupidity.

    Anyone with a drivers license can buy an 1100 horse power super car despite the fact that the fastest it can be driven anywhere is 110 kph, but a person getting around in their local area must have no more than 240 watts (1/3 of a horse power) available to move them around, this in a technological age when any degree of motive management to provide public safety is available from total user management to total autonomous control. Our regulators must all be brain dead 9 to 5.

    In this spectacular display of missunderstanding both NSW and Victorian governments have crippled all scope for creative development of electric decarbonising of transport at the personal level. If we want people to embrace the functionality of electric power the best way is for people to experience the functionality at the low cost level. Our state governments have cut that of at the needs with their total fixation with the notion that people will be blasting around on super bikes killing pedestrians as they go.

    I’d like to ask how many people are killed by electric wheelchair bound people who move around with chairs with generally 5 kilowatt of motive power. I’m pretty sure that the answer is zero, and the reason is simply that rather than limit power these electric chairs limit speed, a fact completely lost on our genius regulators. Why do electric vehicles need a higher motive power? to get up hills.

    My business partner for one reason or another sold his car and bought a power assist electric bike over a year ago. He persisted and has become fitter, lost weight, and where he could get another car to get around, he has become comfortable with the electric bike and the small amount of public transport he needs. But,…his route to and from our assembly factory is mostly flat, had there been any substantial hills along this route his 240 watt power assist would be totally useless for these and the outcome might have been quite different.

    The power assist needs to be around 1000 watts to get a broader spectrum of users interested in exploring powered cycling. The first part of my 16 klm trip home from our other unit is an 800 foot zig zag climb up the mountains, and at my age and fitness level a piddley 240 watts of power assist is a total show stopper.

    The decision to regulate low power vehicles by wattage rather than speed was a dumb move made by people determined to preserve our petrol powered highway commute system. It will take at least another ten years before the innovation crippling nature of such regulation becomes apparent in the face of a burning need for electric powered decarbonising options at all levels.

    In a field where regulations had no means to interfere innovation in electric powered drones blossomed in just a few years right up to the point where a fully autonomous passenger carrying drone is possible


    at this point understanding the risks and regulation became necessary, and with the proliferation of drones finally required some measure of restriction and rules, but the period of free running innovation enabled an immense industry to grow and achieve tremendous leaps forward with technologies that are providing benefits in many other areas. But when it comes to the technologies that can move ourselves around on the ground in Australia, our state governments killed the innovation dead in its tracks with ill-conceived dumb legislation.

    At the automotive level we will just have to wait until the hybrids begin to find their way here at a price level that people can afford, and then wait even longer after the 15% impact hits home should it be implemented.

    Final comment: to see how innovation can profoundly change the way we do things, look at how battery power has changed the powered tool industry and the way we work. The same degree of change will occur with transport if our regulators learn to use devices such as the one that enable profound change in aviation simply by creating a category called “experimental” along with some operating rules.

  36. BilB
    January 20th, 2016 at 05:36 | #36

    ..off at the knees..

  37. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 08:08 | #37


    You are making a lot of sense. Gee, I am glad I wrote in my comment 10 as follows;

    “Permit electric power-assisted bicycles governed to 20 kph on bikeways.”

    You might disagree with the speed I set and my implicit limitation of allowable travel paths but at least my proposal to govern by speed was the correct principle.

  38. BilB
    January 20th, 2016 at 08:34 | #38

    Yes, Ikonoclast, a speed and set of rules will be needed, decided by others to satisfy rational concerns. I suspect that in time when some intelligence has been applied a there will be a speed for mixed traffic (pedestrians and cycles 12 kph) and a higher speed for cycle only ways (perhaps as high as 40 kph, a speed routinely achieved by cyclists without power assist). But what ever it is it needs to be practical and functional.

  39. John Bentley
    January 20th, 2016 at 08:54 | #39

    @John Bentley
    Unfortunately John, I would’ve loved to have made the trek to the Ducklands for your chat show, but I’m off to the land of the Big Dark Shroud to catch-up with my sister, niece and grand-niece for a fortnight. I look forward to your conclusions and comments. While I fear for us Ozzies at the hands of them there Blick Ceps!!

  40. January 20th, 2016 at 15:49 | #40

    Ikon at first I thought you were being sarcastic (since my comment was vehement rather than logical I thought) but hopefully you’re not. Yes the imitations of a car for everybody (or even every adult) are terrible. However cars are useful for some purposes. I think the future for cars is something like electric shared vehicles.

    I’m a member of a car share scheme but I don’t actually use it much because I usually borrow one of my daughters’ cars (we all live fairly close at present). However even that is evolving, because the youngest (the one who lived in Germany) doesn’t have a car and belongs to a car share and the oldest, whose car is wearing out, is thinking of moving on to only car share – so we will be left with only one car (middle child’s). We all have bikes and live in an area well served by PT, so the expense of owning a car for personal use doesn’t make much sense, let alone the ecological considerations.

    I like to think this is the shape of the future though I realise not everyone can do this yet and it will need to modified for people in outer suburbs and country areas.

  41. January 20th, 2016 at 15:51 | #41

    The implications of a car for everybody, not imitations, of course!

  42. January 20th, 2016 at 16:16 | #42


    On electric bikes, I see your point. The problem is that cycle paths are designed for speeds of up to around 30 km/h. Faster than that, and they become dangerous. If the winds are favourable, I’ll hit 45 – 50 km/h for short stretches of cycle path, and it is dangerous 🙂

    Anyway, a 400 W electric bike would be fine on the road, but not on cycle paths. But of course then you are riding a motor bike, and need a motor bike license. Even worse, you’ll start having accidents at motor bike rates, with motor bike injuries – so not very safe until most of our cars are driven by computers rather than fallible humans.

  43. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2016 at 16:46 | #43


    Val, I was not being sarcastic. I understand how these days “impeccable logic” might be mistaken for sarcasm. The phrase is seldom used now except sarcastically; which is a shame.

    On the topic, “Hard cash and climate change: repost from 2005” I have answered a J.Q. answer at my comment number 13. That comment makes it clear that I support you but in a particular manner. That manner relates to fleet change times and infrastructure change times. My ideas on this point are still evolving so I don’t claim that that view is set in concrete yet. I await more facts… or I may go searching for them.

  44. Tim Macknay
    January 20th, 2016 at 17:04 | #44

    I agree about the silliness of the recently revised electric-assist bicycle rules. There is actually a speed limit as well – although it’s too low (IMHO), like the motor power limit. The rule is a 200w limit (with no speed limit) for electric-assist bicycles that can be ridden with no pedalling, and a 250w limit for ‘pedalecs’ (where the motor only operates while the rider is pedalling) with a 25km/h cutout for the motor. The 200w power limit effectively caps the non-pedalling speed at around 25kmh (or less) on flat ground as well, as a 200w bike will struggle to go that fast, at least with a typical sized adult male rider. This irritates me, because as a cycle commuter I typically cruise along at around 30-35kmh (which is about the average speed on my commuter route), so under the current rules I would have to go more slowly on an electric-assist bike, for no good reason.

  45. BilB
    January 20th, 2016 at 19:13 | #45

    John Brookes, an electric bike is a motor bike at one watt if that is the chosen definition level. What makes a vehicle dangerous is its speed. If the limit is set at 25 kph then a 10 megawatt bike will be safe despite its power level. The difference will be that a 10 megawatt bike will be able to power up vertical walls with ease, albeit at 25 kph. The power should be irrelevant.

    The real issues are speed and vehicle weight.

    The power is about relative hill climbing ability only.

    Today’s technologies can deliver a multiplicity of features. Speed control is but one. Others might be automatic variable speed limitation dependent on location or density of obstacles, any amount of signalling options and automatic audible warnings directed to potential collision situations, automatic power shut-off in the event of a collision or near collision, etc. All the regulators need do is add safety features dependent upon power level, on top of the ultimate speed limit.

    This is the very point. The regulations have been established by people with absolutely no imagination or understanding of what the full scope of technological possibilities are. The formula that has been foisted on the public is guaranteed to minimise public and commercial interest in powered free space vehicles, and hence there will be minimal growth in the associated technologies.

    Tim Macknay,

    A higher powered but speed limited electric motor is going to be able to provide far greater upper speed limit maintaining dynamic breaking than a 200 watt or 240 watt motor will be able to provide, so the reality is that if it were so design a higher power electric bike would be able to limit your top speed (25 kph) no matter how hard you pedalled (by fighting against the dynamic braking you would simply be charging you battery from your over exertions.

  46. Cyclist
    January 20th, 2016 at 21:41 | #46

    Re: Electric assisted bicycle power limits
    The rationale behind the recent changes in pedelec regulations was to harmonise with European regulations.
    Europe is home to most of the best electric assisted bicycles available. Have a ride on an upmarket KTM or Haibike to experience just how effective 250w is in supplementing the 150w or so that an average cyclist can sustain.
    Hills are not a problem. On a recent cycle tour in Austria, my wife had a low-end electric bike, and was easily able to get to the top of hills faster than I could, on the lowest power setting.
    She never used more than 40% of the battery capacity, even on a long day.

    One of the serious disadvantages of a higher powered bike is that it needs a bigger, heavier battery and that will make the bike much harder to manage for storage, getting into/out of vehicles and buildings etc.

    Europe and Asia have decades of experience with 250w electric bikes, and they provide a very useful form of transport.
    Moving to standards that conflict with European standards would cripple the market in Australia.
    A superset of the European rules could work, but the likely result would be a small niche market for higher powered bikes at a high cost, with less refined engineering.

  47. Tim Macknay
    January 20th, 2016 at 23:00 | #47

    Yes, obviously. Although personally I think the legislated 25km/h top speed is too slow. 30km/h would be better, IMHO.

  48. BilB
    January 21st, 2016 at 04:30 | #48


    The problem is that in the pursuit of one notion our state governments have eliminated many other types of technologies and user solutions, many of which have become available since the European formula was developed and then foisted on the Australian public. For instance


    has a 2000 watt motor and can never be used in Australia legally. This is an awesome device that suits people who want to duck down to the shop quickly, or drop one of the kids up at the school. I’ve seen these in use, they are very effective and they power up very steep hills in a way that power assist never can. Size? a fraction of that of a push bike, small enough to be taken on trains and other public transport. Their is insufficient space in trains for people to use conventionally sized bikes, electrically powered or not in conjunction with public transport. The European solutions suit Europe (maybe) but they don’t suit Australia.

    I could fill up many pages here with links to technologies and products that are eliminated from Australia by this small minded legislation. And you are quite wrong about the weight and size comment, particularly when it comes to recent and future battery technologies. One particular powered cycle retrofit technology that I like is a drive solution that fits entirely into the seat support frame element of a conventional and drives the bike via a gear that is affixed to the pedal shaft. Illegal in Australia because it is 900 watt.

  49. BilB
    January 21st, 2016 at 05:02 | #49

    People want solutions other than the the Car or the motor bike, and there are a whole raft of solutions eliminated by the 200 watt power limit. Segways for instance are only legal on private property, yet they are very practical devices. In Prague they are used by tour groups to move around the narrow and crowded streets, and they work very well. Hover boards are banned in some states by safety fetishist regulators. What are they worried about? that they might be used in a bank robbery get away?? enabling someone to out manoeuvre our chubby over loaded (utility belt with guns cuffs tazers makeup kit) cops??? or are they worried that granny might be tempted to give one a go and fall off.

    People want other solutions for getting around quickly, conveniently, quietly which do not involve a car, and preferably something that they can fit in their handbag or backpack. My youngest daughter is to start uni this year and she is not rushing out to get a license. She would rather use public transport but in our area it really sucks, so she would need something else to bridge the gaps. My eldest daughter went for 5 years in Melbourne with out a car and only finally got one when she had to teach at a remote (to where she lived and loved) school.

    Remember, our current solutions have delivered us Global Warming and Climate Change. We need to be doing things differently and from our current perspective it is unclear as to what that means. It is vital that we do not eliminate our ability to find what those other solutions are with small minded legislation drafted by lazy imaginationless public servants. We need to be able to explore many options to find out which ones will work in the longer decarbonised term.

  50. BilB
    January 21st, 2016 at 05:18 | #50

    One thing that does not get discussed in this motive power area is why there has to be a limit, and particularly on set at 200 watts (power only devices).

    The territory is that if a powered device was, say, 300 watts it would need to be road registered which would mean it would need to meet full vehicle standards and be tested every year and have indicators, lights, carry a number plate and be subject to third party insurance.

    That is a huge leap for one hundred watts of additional motive power. Does this not seem a little ludicrous?

  51. January 21st, 2016 at 15:24 | #51

    John, the Future Business Council’s research piece, The Next Boom, investigates some of the opportunities and the best mechanisms to drive change.


    We have also completed an in house piece contrasting the role of regulation in achieving outcomes in the transport sector compared to the water industry (unusual comparison but with good reason) – happy to share it with you if of interest.

  52. January 21st, 2016 at 22:55 | #52

    I used to think that the fuel of future transport was up for grabs and would depend on government investment in infrastructure for hydrogen (for example). The transformation of our electricity system has been faster and cheaper than expected and the infrastructure is already in place – round one to EVs.
    I still think there is a role for a fuel form – probably in air travel. The weight and store-ability of fuels has always made them exceptionally handy. Whether this will be a biofuel or hydrogen, time will tell.
    I think strengthening our electricity system to accommodate transport is unnecessary. We have 20-40% utilisation of many parts of our system. we can now generate solar electricity where it will be needed – transport could be a much needed boon to the electricity sector – drastically improving the economics of asset utilisation.
    There is a lesson from electricity about the ‘cheapest’ form of energy – energy efficiency. We have appalling penetration despite efforts since the 70’s to be more energy efficient. I think transport will suffer a similar fate – cycling, walking, public transport will take off for reasons other than fuel savings.
    I find the trend to driverless vehicles and other uses of technology fascinating. Being driven, opens the world of multitasking because you can do other things while you are travelling. Will this be the niche technology that will transform public transport? There will be a stark price difference for travelling alone vs with others – but you could get a pretty similar service in terms of the activities you are able to do in transit.

  53. January 21st, 2016 at 23:00 | #53

    John, I don’t have quite the same take on you second point. Assuming the usual engineering improvements that normally occur when scale of production is increased, I think it likely that electric vehicles can compete with petrol or diesel powered cars without any major breakthroughs or improvements. All that should be required is steady refinement of technology we already have and we can be pretty much certain that kind of improvement will occur.

    Currently petrol costs about 70 cents a litre if you don’t pay tax. To get a petrol car to give similar performance to an electric Nissan Leaf I would have to burn about one liter every 11 kilometers. That comes to about 6.4 cents a kilometer. If it costs $100 a tonne to remove CO2 produced by burning petrol from the atmosphere and sequester it the that’s going to cost about 27 cents a liter to remove the CO2 released from producing and burning a liter of petrol, which comes to about 2.5 cents a kilometer. And as for the cost to human and other life from pollution from refining and burning petrol, I don’t know how much that is, but it is a lot. If someone wants to tell me what it’s likely to be that’s groovy, but for now I’ll just tack on an extra cent a kilometer.

    So that comes to about 9.9 cents a kilometer. A replacement Leaf Battery pack currently costs $5,500 US. If I get a total of 150,000 kilometers out of it, which is not unreasonable, that comes to that comes to 5.3 Australian cents a kilometer. With charge/discharge losses a Leaf gets about 5.5 kilometers to a kilowatt-hour. If I charge it half with grid electricity for 28 cents a kilowatt-hour and half with electricity for new rooftop solar that I would otherwise only get six or fewer cents for if exported to the grid then electricity will cost me about 3.0 cents a kilometer. So electricity plus battery costs comes to about 8.3 cents a kilometer. That’s less than for a petrol car even without accounting for the direct health effects of pollution or if for a carbon price of only $50 a tonne is used.

    Now an astute observer will have noticed that I have left out the cost of capital of having to pay for a battery pack to power the car. At at discount rate of 5% that would come to 2.3 cents a kilometer over a 10 year, 150,000 kilometer lifespan for a $5,500 US battery pack. However, electric car buyers won’t have to pay that much of a premium in the future. This is because once electric cars are produced in volume, their marginal cost before the battery pack is added will be much less than that of internal combustion engine cars. This is because an electric motor is far simpler and cheaper than an internal combustion engine, exhaust system, catalytic converter, and all the other bits it requires. This means the extra upfront cost of an electric car won’t be that great in the future even if battery packs don’t come down in price. And battery packs will come down in price.

    Now I could try and add some more numbers in, and also cover what should be the much lower cost of maintenace for electric cars in the futre, but I’m not sure people care, so I’ll just sum up by saying that the technology we have now for electric cars looks like it will outcompete internal combustion engine cars once it is scaled up. Getting it scaled up is important. Many countries are helping out with this, with Norway in the lead, but number of large countries including Germany and Japan look like they might contribute more than they already are.

  54. Moz of Yarramulla
    January 22nd, 2016 at 09:55 | #54

    Tim Macknay :
    The rule is a 200w limit (with no speed limit) [or] a 250w limit for ‘pedalecs’ (where the motor only operates while the rider is pedalling) with a 25km/h cutout for the motor. The 200w power limit effectively caps the non-pedalling speed at around 25kmh… I would have to go more slowly on an electric-assist bike, for no good reason.

    I don’t think that’s quite true. If you can ride at 30kph without power, adding a 200W assist with no speed restriction is legal and unless the newly assisted bike has dramatically worse performance you should go faster with power on. At the extreme, if you switch to a power-assisted velomobile with a 200W motor that will get you to 50kph quite easily without pedalling.

    The problem I am working on is that there aren’t many fast electric assist bikes suitable for Australia because the rest of the world works in one of two mutually exclusive ways: 250W up to 25kph; or 300W+ with no limit (and in some parts of the USA it’s “1000W no speed limit”). As a result there are not a lot of fast road bikes designed for power assist at speed to make my 40km each way commute take less than an hour. I mean “I still hope there might be one but I haven’t found it”, except that most velomobiles can do that… at $7000 plus power assist kit for the cheapest one.

  55. BilB
    January 22nd, 2016 at 12:11 | #55

    There is the Melbourne manufactured


    which will get you there, and back after a charge costing you just 50 cents per day, but it is not legal in Australia unless your 40 klm route is in your own back yard.

  56. Tim Macknay
    January 22nd, 2016 at 13:27 | #56

    @Moz of Yarramulla
    Yes, obviously if it’s a velomobile you can go a lot faster than 25km/h on a 200w motor. But you’ve pointed out yourself the reason why there are bugger-all velomobiles around. 😉

  57. Tim Macknay
    January 22nd, 2016 at 13:29 | #57

    @Moz of Yarramulla
    …although considering the number of twits who ride $10,000 Pinarello road bikes on their daily commute, maybe the $7000 price tag shouldn’t be that much of an obstacle.

  58. BilB
    January 23rd, 2016 at 09:37 | #58

    And then there is this. Probably illegal in Australia. But I want one for all except the short range, but for around the City ? brilliant.


  59. BilB
    January 23rd, 2016 at 09:37 | #59
  60. BilB
  61. Tim Macknay
    January 25th, 2016 at 12:02 | #61


    And then there is this. Probably illegal in Australia. But I want one for all except the short range, but for around the City ? brilliant.

    It would be illegal in Australia. It would be classed as a moped.

  62. Tim Macknay
    January 25th, 2016 at 12:02 | #62


    I meant it wouldn’t be illegal in Australia.

  63. Moz of Yarramulla
    January 25th, 2016 at 12:52 | #63

    Tim Macknay :
    Yes, obviously if it’s a velomobile you can go a lot faster than 25km/h on a 200w motor.

    My point was more that adding a 200W motor should make you go faster, full stop. It’s only the 250W speed limited ones that have issues.

    I had a Melbourne-made RotoVelo for a while but they really need proper roads to be useful. Sure, I could sit at 40kph up Royal Parade (or 50kph down it) but the rest of my route was 30 traffic lights in 10km, so the 35kg weight counted for a lot more than that brief moment of freedom through the park. Moving back to Sydney made the Melbourne experience seem great by comparison, because Sydney has fewer decent bike paths so my commute meant two major detours around deliberate obstructions that an 800mm wide velomobile couldn’t navigate. Combine that with a much twistier bike path with worse sight lines and there was never a point where I could get it up to speed and stay there.

    If you were riding from, say, Edithvale to to the city along Beach Road a velomobile would be really quite handy because those roads see and are built to cope with cyclists travelling at 30+kph. For me the on-road route to work is mostly on 4 or 6 lane major roads where you have to be able to do 70kph up a hill to survive. So I’d really want a 500W motor without speed restrictions. The EU “heavy quadricycle” rules would be ideal, if we had them here. You can also get cars in those regs

  64. BilB
    January 25th, 2016 at 19:48 | #64
  65. BilB
    January 25th, 2016 at 19:54 | #65

    Would it matter at all what the power of the above “walk car” was as long as it does not exceed a safe speed. As you can see in the video it stops instantly when the load is removed.

    This product clearly highlights the stupidity of the 200 watt power limit.

  66. Collin Street
    January 25th, 2016 at 22:16 | #66

    Would it matter at all what the power of the above “walk car” was as long as it does not exceed a safe speed.

    Because power limits are effectively acceleration and also overall-mass limits. Or, perhaps even more straightforwardly, power limits work as energy-involved-in-collision limits, which is what we’re actually concerned about more than speed.

    Kinetic energy, f=ma, and all that.

    Or, sort of in formal risk-assessment terms: we can limit the hazard a possible outcome — in this case, the risk of collision or accident — represents by:
    a: reducing the likelihood of the negative outcome happening [eg, operator licencing]
    b: reducing the consequences of the negative outcomes that do occur [speed / mass limits, collision-safety features]
    And we can have different sets of trade-offs — low-speed vehicles with untrained operators, high-speed high-mass vehicles with strict operator-training requirements and legally-mandated collision-safety design features, and intermediate combinations, and all these individual trade-off combinations produce acceptably-safe results. However, because of the way speed and mass and power trade off, if we only have one of them limited it has to be power, not speed.

  67. Collin Street
    January 26th, 2016 at 10:50 | #67

    And getting back to this…

    > So I’d really want a 500W motor without speed restrictions.

    Time for some hard facts: at 500W the engine is doing twice the work you are even if you’re pedalling flat-out, which yeah you’re really going to be doing every time you open the throttle I believe you really truly really honest gov.

    What you want exists, and is called a “motorbike”; strapping some fundamentally-ornamental pedals onto such a contraption does not change that.

    [which is another one of the reasons for the power limits, of course: hard to call it a pushbike if the pushing is a third of the power. Plus of course the extra weight of extra power makes the pushing less effective]


  68. BilB
    January 26th, 2016 at 16:23 | #68

    That is nonsense Collin at #66. If a device of the kind at #64 accelerates rapidly its load will fall off and the device will stop as it drives at ground level. All parameters of battery powered devices can be finitely controlled: acceleration, terminal speed, operation in the presence of obstacles such as people, even directional control. Your “a.” would mean that all moveable devices operating in public space and over 2Kg would require registering and user licensing. So shopping trolleys, push bikes, kites, radio controlled drones, large radio controlled toys, some sports devices, many types of doors and gates,,,. You can take safety fetishism to great extremes, but what does it achieve? In Europe people ride bicycles without helmets for casual cycling but don a helmet where higher speeds are desired. It is a matter of judgement and community experience. And they achieve this with comparable safety results despite far higher useage in many cities. The moment we set our average 62 kilogram mass into motion we accept a degree of risk. That cannot be eliminated by safety fetishist legislation. What we could do is take New Zealand’s lead and introduce no fault accident compensation policy so that no matter what happens people are assisted for all of their activities.

    I completely reject your conclusion, “because of the way speed and mass and power trade off, if we only have one of them limited it has to be power, not speed” as being a failure of understanding. The current legislation eliminates any possibility of multiple safety control parameters in mobility technologies,…” if we only have one of them limited” , as if it was not possible to achieve such multi parameter control. This is a total failure of understanding of the capability of powered system control in this our modern world that is so totally dependent on accurate multi parameter power control.

  69. BilB
    January 26th, 2016 at 16:36 | #69
  70. Collin Street
    January 27th, 2016 at 17:34 | #70

    OK. So it looks like I made some assumptions about your knowledge that I shouldn’t have: sorry.

    Breaking people’s bones, tearing their flesh, jellying their brains: this is what physicists call “work”. Takes energy to tear ligament from bone, or retina from eyeball, and the energy comes from the motion of the vehicle and the rider. Can’t come from anywhere else, after all.

    If there’s not enough energy to cut skin or damage capillaries, if there’s not enough energy to injure, then there’s no injury that happens, and for lesser energies there are lesser injuries. We want lesser injuries, and we can do this by:
    + reducing the risk of accidents by restricting operations of some vehicles to those appropriately examined, trained, and qualified [not directly related here; if you have any questions I can help you]
    + requiring design features — brakes, soft bumper bars, seatbelts, crumple zones to absorb energy before it’s imparted into occupants or bystanders
    + limiting the total energy involved in accidents

    We do all three of these. Design rules and graduated licences — stricter for faster and heavier vehicles — are fairly straightforward, although if you’ve got some questions we can deal with those. The third one, energy involved, you seem to be having difficulty with.

    So. Energy of a moving vehicle is a function of its mass and its speed. Faster -> more energy, heavier -> more energy. Faster or heavier -> more energy -> more damage if there’s an accident. But we can trade these off: a heavy and slow vehicle can be designed to have the same “kinetic energy” as a fast and light vehicle, and thus present equal hazard in an accident.

    But this is where it gets clever: the speed a vehicle can reach is a function of the vehicle’s mass and its power. Faster is more energy, more injury — but a low-powered fast vehicle must be light! Heavier is more energy — but a low-powered heavy vehicle must be slow! By limiting the engine power, the design tradeoffs oblige the designer to produce a vehicle so that it produces an acceptable amount of energy in a collision — given the likelyhood of collisions given the training the operators have recieved — without the speed or the mass being so strictly regulated.

    Which is why engine power plays such a big role in licencing requirements for vehicles: it’s one of the dominant influences in risk, particularly at lower speeds.

  71. BilB
    January 27th, 2016 at 20:08 | #71

    Collin, your arguments are completely blown apart by vehicle failures such as the one in Keillor East yesterday. The vehicle was clearly insufficiently designed to protect the occupants at the speed that the vehicle is capable of operating to. All such vehicles should immediately be withdrawn from service, all motorised vehicles should have 110 kph speed limiters applied, as according to the rules that you feel are necessary for 200 watt personal mobilisers.

    Do you not see how ridiculous and unsupportable your argument is on a community wide basis?

  72. Ikonoclast
    January 27th, 2016 at 20:17 | #72


    Actually, I agree. Automobiles in Australia should be speed limited to 110 kph and “urban” rated trucks and vans to 80 kph. Highway rated trucks should be speed limited to 90 kph.

  73. BilB
    January 27th, 2016 at 21:52 | #73

    Not only that, Ikonoclast, based on the thinking of Collin S, the engine power should also be limited because it is power more than speed that provides the “energy to tear ligament from bone, or retina from eyeball”. As Collin says “a low-powered fast vehicle must be light! Heavier is more energy — but a low-powered heavy vehicle must be slow!”

    The other glaring conclusion from yesterday’s vehicle failure is that driver and vehicle licensing does not prevent vehicle collisions.

  74. Tim Macknay
    January 28th, 2016 at 00:11 | #74

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    My point was more that adding a 200W motor should make you go faster, full stop. It’s only the 250W speed limited ones that have issues.

    Far enough.

  75. Collin Street
    January 28th, 2016 at 06:08 | #75

    So I have to explain risk assessment and risk management, how safety isn’t the only thing we care about and how policies involve trade-offs.

    Bugger that for a game of solders.

    BilB: you are operating under a large set of misunderstandings that have lead you to erroneous and dangerous conclusions. Honestly it’s not worth my effort to try to help you any more. It probably never was.

  76. Ikonoclast
    January 28th, 2016 at 07:14 | #76

    Kinetic Energy = 1/2 Mass x Velocity Squared.

    Kinetic energy increases with the square of the speed, so an object doubling its speed has four times as much kinetic energy. The energy in a collision is related to the mass involved and the relative closing speed of the objects. The power of the engine makes no difference at the point of the collision; though the engine’s mass certainly count. So with a speed limited vehicle, the limited top speed will limit the maximum energy it can put into a collision. Of course, if the other vehicle is moving it will put energy into the collision too depending on the vectors of forces.

    The engine’s power, in the case of a speed limited vehicle, will control acceleration and hill-climbing ability but not top speed and thus not the energy available to go into the collision.

    If we took risk assessment, damage and human lives seriously we would speed limit vehicles on our roads. With modern electronics this would be a cinch. It would save fuel too. Fuel consumption rises rapidly at higher speeds. Most private autos on our roads are overpowered compared to practical utility needs.

  77. BilB
    January 28th, 2016 at 10:08 | #77

    In other words, Collin, you have run out of substance to support your position.

    Ikonoclast, you will be thrilled to know that vehicles in Japan (all? some? unsure) have an extremely annoying bell in the speedo that sounds when the vehicle exceeds 110 kph. It would be a very good feature if it was adjustable and could be isolated when desired, but not isolatable for P platers.

    Most accidents have only a few key factors: inattention, inexperience, risk taking, random circumstance, or mechanical failure (rare these days). Speed is only a contributing factor. The reason why we have (relatively) so few accidents is that traffic under most circumstances has a safety factor of 2 (2 participants each performing to protect themselves). The deadliest accidents occur when that safety factor reduces to less than 1. Those accidents are where the driver of the accident vehicle becomes unconscious while still moving ie sleep, extreme alcohol consumption, drugs, extreme emotion, medical, etc.

    The arguments about motive power are entirely too simplistic and the fact that they have been the primary basis of legislation limiting the use of low energy transport is entirely regretable.

  78. Ivor
    January 28th, 2016 at 10:38 | #78

    All transport over land can be done by electric vehicles – trains, buses, trucks.

    This does not occur because we have governments that are beholden to capitalist commercial dogmas. Low emissions transport is more expensive than fossil fuel transport.

    Although there are some boutique examples of electric buses in for example South Australia and developments such as:


    However it is unlikely that the carbon emissions from a world full of electric transport will be less than 1920 levels.

    So what is the benefit – are we not just delaying climate Armageddon.

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