CALIFORNIA — Battery-electric bicycles have a lot of advantages over their human-powered counterparts. They’re fun, they’re fast and can get people where they want to go without breaking a sweat or spewing emissions.
But for all their benefits, they also cost more than traditional pedal bikes. So California is planning to offer financial incentives, similar to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project that’s available for larger electric vehicles.
“Any and all options are on the table,” said Aria Berliner, lead staff for the California Air Resources Board’s new Electric Bicycle Incentive Project.
In July, the state budget allocated $10 million to the ARB to establish the e-bike rebate program no later than July 1, 2022. While the ARB plans to implement it by the end of next year, it is just beginning to work out the specifics.
On Monday, the ARB held its first public work group to solicit feedback on some of its ideas, such as making the incentive available only at brick-and-mortar bicycle dealerships in California, setting income caps for incentive eligibility and mandating a bicycle safety class for individuals who receive money through the program.
Under the state’s existing Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, amounts range from $750 for battery-powered motorcycles and scooters to $2,000 for battery-electric cars and $4,500 for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. The ARB has not yet determined the per-vehicle dollar amount for the e-bike rebate, nor has it determined which types of electric bicycles would qualify.
E-bikes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points. While most are used for recreation, cargo models are an increasingly popular option for deliveries. There are also different classes of e-bike based on the type of electric assistance they provide, as well as their top speed, which range from 20 to 28 miles per hour. With hundreds of available models, prices vary from about $500 to $8,000.
“It’s a balancing act between supporting local business in California and making sure folks with low incomes are getting the help they need to buy a bike,” Phillip Kobernick said of the possible requirement that the rebates only be available at local bike shops. Kobernick designed the e-bike rebate program for Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo and was one of dozens of individuals from all parts of the state providing input on how to structure the incentive.
Bicyclists, bicycle advocates, government agencies, government administrators, environmental justice groups, e-bike manufacturers, bicycle retailers and community activists from San Diego to Santa Cruz to Sacramento also weighed in.
“It’s great to offer educational programming, but when I compare this incentive program for people buying EVs, if I buy an EV, I don’t have to take a safety class. It feels like a double standard,” said Colin Bogart, active transportation program coordinator for the Pasadena healthy city initiative, Day One.
Bogart was one of several commenters in the public work group who supported the idea of bicycle safety education but wasn’t convinced it should be mandated. The state budget allows for as much as 10% of the $10 million allocated for the program to be spent on safety education.
Berliner acknowledged that the structure of the education component remains open, as do the E-Bike Incentive Project’s other components. The ARB plans to hold a second online work group to seek additional public comment Sept. 27.
In 2020, Americans bought an electric bicycle every 52 seconds, according to industry analysts. That trend is expected to continue as individuals look for ways to get around that are clean, green and fun, and as California and other government entities seek to incentivize their use to increase mobility while fighting climate change and decreasing traffic and local air pollution.
In addition to the upcoming California rebate, the federal government could also begin incentivizing e-bike purchases. Earlier this year, a pair of Congress members from California and Oregon introduced the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act to provide a 30% tax credit to consumers who purchase an electric bicycle.
The E-BIKE Act is working its way through Congress, but if passed, consumers could get a tax credit worth up to $1,500 on a new e-bike costing less than $8,000. The tax credit would be available to an individual once every three years, or twice for a couple that files their tax returns jointly and buys two electric bicycles.