Jan 13, 2023 - News

E-bike popularity soars as Austin Energy rolls out pilot program

Data: Austin Energy; Chart: Axios Visuals

Austin is aiming to be ahead of the curve as cities race to give residents incentives to switch to electric bikes — experiments intended to reduce car traffic and improve people's health.

Why it matters: E-bikes are environmentally friendly alternatives to cars and trucks, but they're expensive, and a renewed push from Austin officials aims to make them more accessible.

Driving the news: Austin Energy rolled out a $300,000 pilot program on Jan. 1 that doubled e-bike incentives for residents and fleet owners, part of an effort to accelerate the adoption of electric bikes and other alternative forms of transportation.

  • Now, an Austin Energy customer can receive a rebate of up to $600 for a purchase over $2,000.
  • Plus, Austin Energy customers who signed up for the customer assistance program can get even bigger rebates, including $1,300 for a more than $2,000 e-bike.

Details: Rebate eligibility includes qualifying e-bikes, cargo bikes, scooter, moped, motorcycle or other electric two or three-wheeled vehicles, and online sales are supported if purchased through a participating Austin Energy e-bike dealership.

  • Austin Energy customers can apply online for a rebate within 60 days of the purchase, which includes purchases made late last year.
  • Upload a fully paid invoice showing the full cost of the e-ride vehicle and a copy of the bike manufacturers' published specifications.
  • Approved applicants will receive the incentive check after roughly six to eight weeks.

By the numbers: The Department of Transportation first launched its e-bike rebate program in 2007, when 56 riders took advantage of the incentive.

  • Austin Energy took over the program in 2012. By that time, nearly 650 Austinites in total had snagged rebates for their e-bike purchases.
  • By the end of October last year, more than 2,600 Austinites had received rebates.

What they're saying: It's too soon to say how many residents will take advantage of the revamped program, but it's clear that e-bikes in Austin are becoming increasingly popular, said Karl Popham, Austin Energy's manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies.

  • "We definitely saw a huge uptick in the pandemic," Popham told Axios. "Austin is really pushing to be a bike friendly city. That helps address clean air … but just as importantly, it's another alternative to getting around."

Yes, but: Austin has roughly the same amount of cars as people.

  • Popham said investments in bike lanes and public transit can help reduce that.
  • "We can't use a solution of 100 years ago — more roads and cars — to address the growth trends of 2020 and beyond," Popham added.

Zoom out: People have a revealed preference for electric bikes over electric cars, writes Axios' Felix Salmon. The number of e-bikes sold in the U.S. is more than double the number of e-cars, while in China there are more e-bikes than all cars combined.

  • Programs that subsidize e-bikes are enormously popular.
  • Denver saw 20 times the uptake it expected and similar incentives are coming or planned in cities like Atlanta, as well as states including Colorado, Oregon, California, and New York.

The other side: E-bike disadvantages include higher injury rates than conventional bicycles, limited battery life and more difficult upkeep, writes Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson.

  • Plus, cities tend to build bike infrastructure with traditional two-wheelers in mind, and integrating speedy e-bikes can be challenging.

The bottom line: "Who knows, we might sell out within 30-60 days of the funding available for it, or it might be a stretch all the way to the finish line," Popham said, but if other programs are any guide, it'll get "gobbled up pretty quick."

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