Aug 14, 2023 - Economy & Business

E-bike incentive programs are spreading nationwide

Data: PlanRVA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

E-bike incentive programs have been rolled out or proposed in about two dozen states nationwide, helping to bring down out-of-pocket costs — especially for lower-income buyers.

  • That's according to data collected by PlanRVA, which promotes cooperation on regional planning issues among Richmond, Virginia-area communities.

Why it matters: E-bikes are faster and less physically demanding to ride compared to traditional bikes — not to mention cheaper and greener than cars.

  • But they tend to be relatively expensive compared to regular bikes — sometimes double or triple the cost or more, depending on features.
  • Incentive programs, whether in the form of cash vouchers or tax rebates, can bring down those costs.
  • Such programs are especially useful for lower-income buyers who can't afford a car, but also helpful for those who simply don't want a car, or want to replace some of their car miles with e-bike miles.

What they're saying: "You can do a lot of things with just $20,000-$25,000 [rebate programs]," PlanRVA transportation planner Dan Motta tells Axios.

  • "We're talking about changing people's lives by helping them get around the community in a different way, or expanding their access to opportunity."

What's happening: Denver's e-bike rebate program has been wildly successful, both in terms of spurring adoption and slashing emissions, Axios Denver's Alayna Alvarez reports.

  • Similar programs are now underway in California, Connecticut, Oregon and more.
  • Some are run by state or local governments, others by utility providers.
  • Other e-bike incentive programs are working their way through the legislative process in several more states and areas, including New York and Washington, D.C.

How it works: Such programs typically offer either a flat rebate or a tax credit (say, a few hundred bucks), or one rebate level for families above a certain income threshold and bigger rebates for those below that threshold.

  • The latter idea is meant to target a greater share of a rebate program's overall budget at lower-income buyers.

The big picture: While incentive programs are helping some people buy e-bikes, they're not driving a notable spike in overall sales, says Levi Conlow, CEO of Lectric eBikes.

  • That's in part because the "scale and size" of those programs is "pretty small" compared to the size of the overall market, he says.
  • Conlow isn't counting on such programs to drive sales — instead, he says he's focused on keeping costs low while delivering a quality product.
  • Still, "the vouchers do a really good job for driving awareness because they get a lot of news coverage and they create a lot of conversation," he adds.

By the numbers: About 20% of trips using Lectric e-bikes would have otherwise been driven in a car, while 15% of Lectric's customers sought out an e-bike as a car alternative, Conlow says, citing internal company research.

Yes, but: E-bikes are facing some uphill battles.

  • Some e-bike companies — most notably high-end manufacturer VanMoof — are struggling mightily as interest rates rise and venture capital dries up.
  • Headline-grabbing battery fires, meanwhile, are fueling skepticism about all manner of personal mobility devices, e-bikes included.
  • Some cities are also struggling to integrate e-bikes into infrastructure meant for slower, traditional bikes.

The bottom line: In a car-dependent nation, e-bikes are starting to make headway as a vehicle replacement — helped along in part by incentive programs.

  • "If we set up our built environment, especially in cities, in more urban areas, e-bikes can be car trip replacers, and e-cargo bikes can be car replacers," PlanRVA's Motta says.
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