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Cities Ride the E-Bike Wave as Policymakers Consider Support

Local purchase incentives are increasingly available for e-bikes as their popularity spreads nationwide. Meanwhile, proposed federal legislation would open up assistance to would-be e-bike riders.

The rise of e-bikes and other forms of micromobility has supporters bullish about the future of these small forms of urban transportation, even if cities have been slow to add the infrastructure needed to support them.

“Micromobility is not only a leisure activity, and these aren’t only leisure vehicles. And it kind of pisses me off, honestly, when we talk about them as such. Because they’re used in all sorts of ways,” said Julia Thayne, senior principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, speaking on a panel during last week’s annual Veloz Summit. Veloz is an electric mobility advocacy and policy organization based in Sacramento, Calif.

“We’re seeing much more uptake of private ownership of micromobility vehicles, and more types of micromobility vehicles. The industry is really changing. We need more investment from the private sector,” she added.

Perhaps the breakaway darling of the micromobility movement is the e-bike, and its spinoff, the e-cargo bike. In the last several years, a slew of new brands have entered the market at a range of price points, while urban bike-share fleets have moved quickly to transition from “analog” to e-bikes. The devices are championed by users for their ability to flatten hills and allow riders to travel farther than they would on a typical bike or electric scooter. Cities like Denver have been standouts for their cash incentives toward the purchase of an e-bike.

Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Jimmy Panetta of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act, which if passed, would provide a tax credit up to $1,500 toward the purchase of a new e-bike priced under $8,000.

“E-bikes are not just a fad for a select few, they are a legitimate and practical form of transportation that can help reduce our carbon emissions,” said Panetta, in a statement.

Dianne Martinez, the director of the nonprofit Garfield Foundation and former mayor of Emeryville, Calif., said the legislation is a good opportunity to gain momentum from “the diverse fields of social justice and environmental activism.”

The federal government “is dipping its toe in the water of looking at how support could be for e-bikes,” said Thayne.

Whether or not the proposed federal incentive becomes a reality, California residents will soon have access to their own e-bike purchasing incentives, in a program created by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

These programs attract new people to e-biking, said Laura Krull, bike-share coordinator for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the Bay Area.

“I think this can make e-bikes more of an option, not for just high-income, but just for everyday people looking for mobility options,” she added, in some of her comments on the panel.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.