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Multiple Bay Area Programs Aim to Expand Access to E-Bikes

The city of Oakland and East Bay Community Energy will soon launch programs to stand up e-bike lending libraries, as well as cash incentive programs to help residents purchase an electric bike.

From left, Heather House, a manager with the Carbon-Free Transportation Program at Rocky Mountain Institute; Brett Wiley, senior program associate with East Bay Community Energy; Kerby Olsen, new mobility supervisor with the Oakland Department of Transportation; Ed Clancy, president of Pedal Ahead; and Colin Hughes, principal consultant at Rebel on a panel at the Micromobility America conference Oct. 20 in Richmond, Calif.
Skip Descant/Government Technology
Electric bike programs in the San Francisco Bay Area are investing millions of dollars toward incentives for purchasing a bike, as well as a program to lend them out.

The Oakland Department of Transportation will roll out its e-bike lending library program later this year, while Ava Community Energy — formerly East Bay Community Energy — is investing some $10 million into a program to provide cash incentives toward the purchase of the bikes.

The e-bike library concept grew out of concerns by residents unable to take a bike from the bike-share program home overnight. The bikes had to be returned to the dock at the end of a trip.

“Also, there’s only one kind of bike in our bike-share program … . But there’s all these different needs for other kinds of bikes,” said Kerby Olsen, new mobility supervisor with the Oakland Department of Transportation, referring to a need for devices like cargo bikes. Oakland was awarded $1 million by the Clean Mobility Options Voucher Pilot Program, a California initiative funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program.

“The goal of this project is really to address those concerns that we heard, to provide different kinds of bikes, to provide them in the disadvantaged communities of Oakland, and to support our local bike economy,” Olsen said, during a panel Oct. 20 at the Micromobility America conference in the Bay Area.

A companion program in Oakland will be led by Ava Community Energy, a nonprofit electric utility serving about 600,000 customers in Alameda and San Joaquin counties. Ava Community Energy has invested $26 million into local programs, with $6 million being invested into Ava Community Energy’s e-bike lending library program. Altogether, this will be a $10 million, three-year program, with a goal of generating some 13,000 one-week lending sessions over the next three years.

The utility will also have an incentive program to help fund the purchase of 7,300 to 8,300 new e-bikes across the service area in the next three years.

“The theory is the lending library will serve as a ‘try before you buy’ mechanism,’” explained, Brett Wiley, senior program associate with Ava Community Energy, in some of his comments on the panel.

The utility will stand up about six lending libraries across the service area with 120 to 150 e-bikes in circulation.

A mission for both the city bike lending program and Ava Community Energy’s combination lending libraries and cash incentives is to put more electric bikes on city streets, and reduce traffic congestion, but also expand transportation options for underserved communities, and riders.

“I think in a lot of our communities, people have just never tried an e-bike,” said Olsen. “They don’t have an e-bike shop where they live. No one around them sells e-bikes. None of their friends have e-bikes."

“I think e-bikes are really addictive,” he added. “And once you try it, you’re kind of hooked. But a lot of people just haven’t been hooked. So we’ve got to get them that first dose of that really addictive e-bike stuff.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story used the old name of Ava Community Energy. It has since been corrected.
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.