RIGA - THE ELECTRIC CITY! The rise of electric vehicles in Latvia.

With the growing hype of electric vehicles (EVs) in Riga and the new governmental subsidies, European Green Deal, the war in Ukraine, and rising fuel prices, will the capital of Latvia become the new epicentre for electric vehicles? Or should the country focus more on public transport and micromobility, including bikes and their infrastructure?

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The very first EV charging station in Latvia was opened in 2010 with the first registered electric car coming up a year later. In 2012, official announcements were made, revealing the country and EU's plans, generally promising to take care of infrastructure and subsidizing EV purchases for, at least, municipalities. The electrification of private transportation was set in motion.
The progress was initially slow. However, in mid-2020 the very first EV-only car sharing service "fiqsy" was presented with its first 100-strong EV fleet (they already had a history as being one of many public e-scooter providers). fiqsy's fiercest competitor, also the very first car sharing company in the country, "Carguru" introduced their first EVs only in spring the next year (also their VW e-cars were not the best choice). Important to mention that already in 2019 the very first e-moped sharing service named Skok entered the market in Riga, becoming the first multi-passenger EV sharing brand in the country.
But then, for unknown reasons, the whole EV culture exploded and reached it's highest point in the second half of 2021. Since then, there hasn't been a day without noticing at least a handful of EVs scattered across the central Riga alone (within the railroad circle). Considering that the variety of models and tints available is larger than enough, those are seldom the same cars (note: in Latvia, every EV has a special license plate with blue "EX - XXXX" lettering, therefore they are easily recognizable).
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The amount of electric cars in Latvia has grown geometrically. CSDD, 2022.


One of the reasons to switching to EVs (apart from mass psychosis and the idea that EVs are the new "sexy" thing) might be the overall economic growth. People of Latvia are finally ready to afford EVs that are, at most times, more expensive than regular cars. On the other hand - it's also cheaper and more effective to have an EV especially in urban living spaces as their parking is free in Latvia, EVs demand no exploitation tax payments, and they can be driven on bus lines (for now). Also, despite the rising prices of electricity since around Christmas 2021, this type of energy is still much more affordable than petrol. Latvia is also sporting great numbers on how much of the produced amount is green a.k.a. renewable -  in 2020 electricity, generated by water stream and biomass, made 59% of the total amount produced alone.
The second reason, Latvians are generally well aware of the purpose and value of nature in their green land, hence the general acceptance of vehicles that don't produce CO2 when used. There are also so many renewable and safe ways of getting electricity in the country these days - sun, wind, water stream, waves, you name it; most of them are employed in Latvia with sun and wind gaining more and more of momentum as we speak. Meanwhile becoming green is relevant for the city of Riga as it is not very productive yet to fighting its carbon emissions; while the number is slooowly declining, every year more than 700 000 tonnes of CO2 are being released by traffic in the capital (we also need to keep in mind that the production of EVs, particularly their battery, is also not very "green" yet).
The third reason might be the long-awaited reliability of infrastructure. In autumn 2021, the charging station development programme in Latvia ended, resulting in the biggest network in the Baltic states.
However, the forth reason is the most relevant now - the constantly growing fuel prices that recently made an extreme jump. But now, because of the war in Ukraine and boycotts on Russia, petrol costs in Latvia have gone up even more by 48 - 70 % in the first two weeks of war and are still rising. Of course, it can be explained by the general change of the fuel market globally, but another reason can be of that Latvia's crude oil imports rely on Russia's resources almost exclusively.
Percentage of Russian crude oil imports out of total crude oil imports. Aljazeera, 2022.


Around Christmas 2021, the Latvian government agreed on providing a 2250 - 4500 EUR reduction grant for every newly purchased EV or plug-in hybrid car in order to help upgrade the national car fleet to something greener. One of few restrictions was the price of vehicles (below 60,000 EUR), and the total amount of funding is 10,000,000 EUR. It might sound as an appealing feat, however among urban activists this was regarded as a bad move. 
Their criticism is reasonable. As the representatives of one of the most powerful urban grassroots organization in the country, "Pilsēta cilvēkiem", stated that, instead of investing the designed sum in people buying more cars, the country could better spend the money on updating the public transport or cycling infrastructure, meaning that it's a better road toward a greener country. Compared to personal vehicles, the public transport only emits 1% of CO2 in Riga and 1,8% in the country, while bikes emit zero CO2 and consumes no electricity. Producing EVs, no matter how clean they are while driving, has many shady affects on the world.

Another criticism was also levelled at the idea that the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (responsible for the grant programme) supports those who are already able to purchase new cars and would do it anyway at some point. Therefore, the wealthier or able part of the country gets bonuses whereas the youth, students, seniors, people with fewer income, who often use the public transport and bikes, again, get nothing. Some user on Facebook commented that it would be better if the Ministry rather granted discounts for bikes.
We, at CAPITAL R, want to sustain the idea by actually suggesting buying bikes at full price to every high-school pupil on their first day of school. If a decent bike (at wholesale discount) might cost around 400 EUR, it means there's one for 25,000 teenagers. That's 70% of high-schoolers in Latvia to get a ride.
No matter what, the EV boom has really started, and it will be hard to stop it if even possible. On the one hand, we are definitely pro-EV and can only hope Latvia and EU will also develop an appropriate and sustainable battery recycling system and there will be more ways of harvesting green electricity introduced and employed in Latvia. Also we can hope that EVs will become more and more effective (their production is already less than a half the damage regular vehicles and their manufacturing cause to the world),
On the other hand - we are also pro-balance. Therefore we hope the "ministry of nature" will also deliver good news about grants for cycling, and people sooner than later will also prefer bikes or other means of micromobility rather than any car. Especially today when owning a car is more and more a fuss.
Despite all the above, will Riga become one of the Central-to-Eastern-European trailblazers of the new EV culture and join the way Scandinavians do it? Time will tell.


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