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Now is the time to incentivize e-bike ownership

Part 1: Why e-bikes?

What if I told you that there was a low-cost transportation policy measure that New York State could adopt, that would transform our future to be more sustainable, affordable, and healthy for all New Yorkers, but especially in our upstate cities? I’m talking about incentivizing e-bike ownership.


More than half of trips in all trips Americans make are less than 3 miles - a distance that easily could be covered by an e-bike rather than a car. Electric bicycles or e-bikes, are bicycles that give riders an extra boost, making it easier to ride further, climb hills, and carry groceries or other cargo.


New York State should join other states like Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, in incentivizing ownership and adoption of electric bicycles through a statewide program that offers a point-of-sale discount for all New Yorkers, and especially middle and low income New Yorkers to purchase an e-bike at their local bike shop. 


At SMI, we’ve been working for years to build community owned programs that make bicycling, and particularly e-bikes more accessible. Adding e-bikes to our bikeshare programs in upstate New York has been a great way to get more people riding in our communities. And through our work supporting community based organizations launching e-bike libraries in New York State, and elsewhere around the country, we have seen how e-bikes get non-cyclists excited about biking.

Why should New Yorkers be incentivized to buy and use e-bikes?


  1. Versatility

  2. Cost

  3. Climate Goals/Sustainability

  4. Road safety and public health


Through our work launching e-bike libraries, I’ve seen firsthand how e-bikes get non-cyclists excited about bicycling



  1. Versatility


I love seeing the smiles on people's faces when they try an e-bike for the first time

Based on the hundreds of times I’ve helped people do their first e-bike test ride through SMI’s various initiatives, I can tell you that nearly everyone, especially the cycling skeptics, love riding an e-bike!


E-bikes are a technology that combines the simplicity of conventional pedal bikes with a boost that makes bicycling more accessible. E-bikes make it easier to ride farther, climb hills, and get to your destination without breaking a sweat. A growing body of research points to e-bikes replacing trips that would otherwise have been made by a car, particularly for commuting.


E-bikes also make it easier for people that may not have the physical ability to power a conventional bicycle on their own, plus adaptive e-bikes are a great option for people who cannot balance on a two-wheeler. 


Furthermore, cargo e-bikes are becoming more widely available, making it easier to haul groceries and the kids. And even though you’re getting help from the boost of the e-bike, you’ll still get some exercise when you pedal.

E-Cargo Bike, Photo: Bunch Bikes

2. Cost


E-bikes are way cheaper than cars, especially electric cars. E-bikes bought at your local bike shop typically have a retail price of $1500-$2500. While much lower than the cost of car ownership, many lower income New Yorkers will need help affording their first e-bike. 


New York State currently offers the Drive Clean Rebate, a point-of-sale rebate on new electric vehicles for up to $2000 (this can be used in combination with the Federal Tax Incentive for EVs). Why not expand the statewide EV incentive program to include e-bikes, like Connecticut?


3. Climate Goals / Sustainability 


I’m continually amazed at human ingenuity when it comes to technological advancements in EVs and autonomous vehicles, but let’s not be fooled that EVs alone can effectively tackle climate change. If we are really serious about stopping the worst effects of climate change, our public policy would be doing more to incentivize biking and public transportation.


New York State has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, requiring an 85% reduction in emissions by 2050. Passenger vehicles account for 16% of GHG emissions nationwide and while switching New Yorkers to EVs may help, a true sustainable future is not achievable if we merely trade gas powered vehicles for EVs. E-bikes are a zero emission transportation option that can help us start to drastically reduce our transportation related emissions.

In 2022 we helped launch Electro Bici, a program that has facilitated new e-bike riders and reduced emissions in an area of southern California with historically high air pollution

4. Road Safety and Public Health


The rates of American traffic related injuries and deaths due to motor vehicles is appalling. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were an estimated 40,990 vehicle crash related fatalities in 2023. Incentivizing people to switch to e-bikes will help us reduce the number of cars on our roadways. More e-bikers will also increase motorist empathy for cyclists because more people will have a family member or friend who is a cyclist. 


And to be clear, e-bikes are not motorcycles. In New York State, outside of NYC e-bike motors are capped at 20 miles per hour. This means that e-bikes go just a bit faster than a pedal bike and can safely be used on bike paths and other bike infrastructure.


 

These are all compelling attributes of e-bikes, but without a statewide incentive program we’ll be missing our opportunity to help people switch to e-bikes. Emerging research is pointing to the effectiveness of e-bikes rebate programs in spurring widespread e-bike adoption.


Stay tuned for the second part of this series where I’ll discuss my recommendations for a statewide e-bike rebate program based on SMI’s experience piloting e-bike incentives, e-bikes libraries, and other similar programs.

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