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An Empire State E-bike Incentives Program

Now is the time to incentivize e-bikes

With the numerous benefits that widespread e-bike adoption could bring to New York State, a state-wide e-bike incentive program would be a transformational policy achievement.


A number of cities and states across the country have implemented e-bike voucher and rebate programs. Denver and Colorado have been trailblazers in these types of programs, but many other jurisdictions are also incentivizing e-bike purchases. Funding sources for these initiatives vary, ranging from tax credits, emissions reduction funding, and in the case of the City of Tampa, parking revenue. 


Throughout all of these programs, the primary goal is to increase e-bike ownership. Secondarily, many of these programs have attempted to provide increased incentives for lower income individuals. I would argue that many existing programs have not done enough to make e-bike incentives attractive, accessible, and relevant to low income and other priority populations that could most benefit from these initiatives.


Built upon our work expanding access and awareness of e-bike technology through our e-bike library programs over the last four years, SMI is now leading one of the first e-bike incentive programs in New York State. This program is a component of Project MOVER, a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) New York Clean Transportation Prizes initiative. The Project MOVER e-bike incentive program will provide a significant discount for purchasing an e-bike, targeted towards low-income residents of select Westchester County communities. 


Based on SMI’s experience and e-bike incentive precedents from around the nation, we see the following attributes as essential to these programs:

  1. Prioritize access for low-income participants

  2. Affordability for low-income participants

  3. Ease of access to e-bike incentives

  4. Eligible e-bikes and participating retailers




  1. Prioritize awareness for low-income participants


What sets e-bike incentives apart from EV incentives, is that an e-bike incentive program (if done right) actually has the ability to help those with lower incomes make the switch to a more affordable, and greener transportation option. The costs associated with owning and operating a car are way higher than an e-bike. EVs, even with federal and many state subsidies, are something that are only affordable to those with higher incomes. Along with the barriers of cost, lower income households are less likely to have easy access to EV chargers.


East Side Bike Club's E-bike Library opening in 2022, Buffalo, NY

Even if e-bikes may be a good choice for many individuals both financially and for the planet, switching to an e-bike from a car can be a big leap. People may have never tried an e-bike and don’t know what it is. And while for some with longer commutes, an e-bike would not be the most practical replacement for a car, for many it could be. But it may take some convincing. 


For marginalized communities, outreach and engagement for an e-bike incentives program needs particular attention. In SMI’s experience implementing e-bike libraries, the most effective way to raise awareness of e-bikes amongst community members is empowering trusted community based organizations to lead targeted outreach campaigns. 


2. Affordability for low income participants 


Many programs have followed the Denver model, offering various tiers of incentive based on household income. The lowest income tier should offer the most substantial discount, something like 85-90% of an e-bike cost, or around $1,200. For people making less than $35,000-$40,000, an incentive of this scale can make an e-bike truly affordable and an attractive option. Moderate income tiers, for those with incomes below $55,000-$60,000 should be able to receive a 45-60%, or around $800 discount on an e-bike. Higher income should still be eligible for a modest incentive of a few hundred dollars.


For all income tiers, participants who are purchasing an e-cargo bike should be eligible for an additional couple hundred dollars e-bike discount to help cover some of the higher cost for these bikes. Additionally special provisions should be made to offer a higher incentive for those with demonstrated need for an adaptive e-bike, as these models typically cost more than a standard e-bike.



3. Ease of access to e-bike incentives


Low barrier sign up processes maximize accessibility of e-bike incentives

Incentives must be easy to access and use. Following a simple verification process, whereby the program administrator verifies eligibility for the relevant tier, participants will receive a voucher that they can take to a participating bike shop. When presented at the bike shop, the voucher will entitle the participant to a point-of-sale discount, meaning that the incentive dollar amount will be deducted from the sticker price. Point-of-sale discounts are a must for e-bike incentives programs, particularly if these incentives are geared towards providing e-bike access to those that cannot afford to wait around for a mail-in rebate or deduction from the income tax during tax season the next year.


The eligibility verification process for low and moderate income must be easy and straightforward for applicants. 


While cities and states may initially pilot e-bike incentives programs with limited funding for participants, ultimately states should strive towards making a wider number of incentives available. In the piloting phase, cities/states have experimented with both first come, first served and lottery based structures to determine who gets the limited number of available vouchers. States would be wise to offer unlimited incentives through a tax credit based system (something like Colorado ‘s program) or appropriate a large enough sum to cover the demand that residents have for e-bike incentives. In a program with limited funding for vouchers that does not meet the demand of the population, incentives should be prioritized for low and moderate income individuals only.



4. Eligible e-bikes and participating retailers


E-bike incentives support local bike retailers. Photo: GObike Buffalo

All eligible e-bikes must be purchased from an approved local e-bike retailer. It is critical that vouchers only be redeemable from retailers with a nearby brick and mortar location. This not only supports the local economy and local businesses, but it also helps to ensure that there is an easy pathway to obtain maintenance and repairs. As e-bike motors and wiring is more proprietary than a normal pedal bike, in many cases professionally servicing an e-bike bought online can be difficult, if not impossible.


E-bike retailers should only be approved if all of their e-bike offerings are from reputable brands. With the rise of e-bike popularity over the last 5 years, there are many wonderful brands selling e-bikes with UL certified batteries, the industry standard for battery safety. However there are also many cheaper e-bikes that can be purchased online or from DIY type stores, e-bikes with batteries that lack UL certification and in many cases should be prohibited from the American market by stricter federal consumer safety standards and import regulations. 


 

A robust e-bike incentive program in New York State will transform our state’s transportation landscape: promoting an affordable alternative to EVs, reducing emissions, and improving road safety as well as public health. Through our work expanding e-bike access through bikeshare and e-bike libraries in New York State, we’ve seen e-bikes turn numerous non-cyclists into cyclists. Facilitating affordable access to e-bikes, through a statewide incentive program, is a key part of a more equitable and climate friendly future.

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