Edition 28 September 2017, by Benjamin Roberts
Last month at the grand opening of Birò’s new showroom, Pex Langenberg, Rotterdam’s municipal council member for mobility, sustainability, and culture remarked that light electric vehicles like the Biro are destined to become the new automobile of his city.
Less than four years ago, the first Birò’s, (light electric vehicle or LEV) arrived in the Netherlands from its manufacturer, Estrima in Milan, Italy. The four-wheel, two-seater electric vehicle is the brain-child of Matteo Maestri, who wanted to come up with a solution to reduce traffic congestion and pollution in cities, while at the same time still make urban centers accessible with vehicles. Today in the Netherlands there are more than 250 Biròs riding around and in the near future that number is likely to grow. With many advantages, it is very likely to become the vehicle par excellence of Dutch urban centers. It’s easy to park (four Birò’s fit into one space of a standard car), it’s electric and energy efficient (ride 100 kilometers for one euro), and currently most Birò’s (and LEV’s) do not require parking permits if owners register them as a disabled persons vehicle. This allows owners to park them on the sidewalk. However, in the future, municipal governments will have to take measures and regulate parking for LEV’s.
According to Ties Hogestijn, sales representative at the Amsterdam showroom on the Rozengracht, “that’s a dream come true for many city-dwellers that need to get around town and don’t want to waste time finding a parking spot”. Hogestijn explains, “Currently the municipal governments in the Netherlands don’t know exactly what to think of the Birò. On the one hand, because of the small size and reduced speed limit (maximum of 47 kilometers per hour), Birò’s are allowed on the road and bike path, and they can be parked sometimes on the sidewalk. On the other hand, cities see the Birò as the solution to the growing traffic problems and environmental issues. In early September, the Dutch environmental organization “Milieu Defensie” won a milestone court case against the Dutch state, which will force the government to take more serious measurements to enforce European Union clean air policies. According to Milieu Defensie, it is a breakthrough in improving the quality of clean air for city-dwellers and forces the Dutch state to protect its citizens against carbon monoxide emissions that exceed European norms.
In the Netherlands, after smoking and obesity, air pollution is the third cause of death. According to environmental organization, residing, working or going to school in places where the air is polluted has the same effect as smoking cigarettes, and causes lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. According to Hogestijn, “With the recent ruling cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam are taking LEV’s like Birò under serious consideration as a viable solution to its problem. The Birò is not only popular in the Netherlands. Residents in Lisbon, Milan, Madrid, Brussels, and Japanese cities are embracing the Birò’s as a means of easy, in-town transportation. Hogestijn smiles, “the design of the car is the aspect that really sold me. It ‘s looks really cool”. Contrary to popular belief that Birò owners are urban hipsters Hogestijn argues, “That is what people think but the people buying the Italian designed Birò’s are from all walks of life from parents with young children to the elderly who don’t want to ride a bicycle and don’t want to buy a car”. For the price of 12,000 euros, plus 6 % VAT (standard automobiles are taxed 21% VAT), Hogestijn adds, “that’s a deal, and it’s environmentally friendly. Who can say no to that?” With the Amsterdam showroom only two blocks down from the Anne Frank House, Hogestijn adds that lots of tourists come in and take pictures. Especially Americans are enthusiastic about the Birò. He grins, “It won’t be long before Birò’s are everywhere”.