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Colorado Doubles Down on E-Bike Incentives After Early Successes

New incentives — like the ones offered in Denver — are promising to advance the adoption of e-bikes and are fueling calls for the devices to be seen as essential parts of the evolving transportation ecosystem.

A person rides a bicycle in the plaza at Union Station in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood of Denver, Colo.
A person rides a bicycle in the plaza at Union Station in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood of Denver, Colo.
Colorado may be leading the nation in the spread of electric bikes, with a new proposal to increase funding for incentives.

Gov. Jared Polis has proposed $120 million in a budget amendment to fund incentives for electric vehicle purchases, electric bikes and even funding targeted toward the increased adoption of electric lawn mowers.

Around $10 million of this funding is to be directed toward point-of-sale rebates for electric bike purchases, much like the program in place in Denver. More than 4,700 vouchers to be used toward the purchase of e-bikes have been claimed in Denver since the program began last year.

“Every time you see someone riding an e-bike, you are seeing someone who is a solution to our most pressing and urgent problem,” said Rachel Hultin, sustainable transportation director for Bicycle Colorado, in some of her comments on a panel Feb. 14 to discuss micromobility. The panel was organized by Forth Mobility, an Oregon-based electric transportation policy and advocacy group.

E-bikes — even more so that conventional pedal bikes — have been offered as legitimate solutions to work commuting, running errands and some of the types of trips generally made in cars. They are viewed by bike and micromobility advocates as more than merely recreational devices and should be seen as vital pieces of the transportation ecosystem.

“We want micromobility to be a legitimate transportation option,” said Laura Mallonee, membership and engagement director at the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Association (NABSA).

“Our culture and language has just been so auto-centric,” remarked Hultin. “And it just, historically, has excluded people who don’t have access to a car, people who need to rely on walking, biking, taking transit to get where they need to go.”

The effort in Denver — and wider efforts across the state — have been aimed at getting people out of their cars as an approach to thin traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gases. Today, about 100,000 vehicle miles are replaced every week by e-bikes in Denver, said Hutlin.

The transportation sector is the single largest impact on air quality problems in Denver, said Grace Rink, executive director of the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency in the city and county of Denver.

“We want people to shift their modes of transportation,” she said in comments at the Micromobility World Conference last month.

Bike-share systems have been steadily turning to e-bikes for fleet transitions. In 2018, e-bikes were deployed by 28 percent of bike-share operations, according to NABSA. By 2021, that share had grown to 50 percent. Also, e-bikes are now ridden about 36 percent more than pedal bikes.

“The theme here is electric, shared, micromobility is following the trends of overall electric micromobility and getting people on electric vehicles,” said Mallonee.

These trends are making the case for improved and expanded bike infrastructure, say experts.

“Getting more people on bike trails and bike paths, increase demand for those spaces, hopefully will lead to additional infrastructure. Hopefully will lead to additional funding to support micromobility,” said Mallonee.

Planning for and building micromobility infrastructure is obviously less expensive than the infrastructure needed for autos, which helps to make the case that it not be discounted as a recreational perk, said Mallonee.

“I’m not saying we should eliminate all these other choices, but lets make micromobility a choice. Lets have it in the future of our planning, of our sustainability plans,” she added. “Make micromobility a transportation mode.”
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.