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To Meet Demand, Connecticut May Move to E-Bike Lottery

The state may use a lottery system to connect electric bicycle riders with purchasing incentives. Nearly 80 people received free e-bikes last year from a state program that awarded nearly 470 vouchers, covering all or part of the expense.

an electric bike on public lands
(TNS) — Even in the hills north of Stamford, Julie Gabay knows not every rider needs the extra kick today's electric bikes provide on steeper inclines. And the Pacific Cycling & Triathlon owner notes plenty of local riders do not require any extra monetary oomph to handle the steeper prices for many e-bike models.

But with a new package of state e-bike incentives in the works as riding season arrives in Connecticut, Gabay is the first to say the state needs to do a better job of enrolling dealers and applicants in the program. And it remains an open question whether some would-be buyers are delaying purchases in the hopes of hitting the jackpot that resulted in nearly 80 people getting a free e-bike last year, with their vouchers covering the full cost of the models they purchased.

Connecticut awarded nearly 470 vouchers last summer toward the purchase of e-bikes, under the Connecticut Electric Bicycle Incentive Program. Earlier this year, the governing board for the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate program indicated it could switch to a lottery system for a follow-up incentive program this year.

In meeting materials, the board acknowledged the program's first-come, first-served design posed a "problem" as nearly 6,400 residents applied for incentive vouchers set at either $500 or $1,500 toward the purchase of eligible models priced below $3,000. The amount of the vouchers was dependent on the resident's annual income.

On average, buyers paid $250 out of pocket for a new e-bike. About one of every 10 vouchers were never redeemed by applicants, leaving the board to consider how to carry those funds over into this year's purchase window.

The state created the Connecticut Electric Bicycle Incentive Program both as a way to reduce vehicular pollution — voucher recipients had to commit to using e-bikes in place of their cars for commuting or errands — and to help people who might not be able to afford e-bikes otherwise. A quarter of those approved for vouchers reported income of at least $100,000 a year, but qualified for the program because they lived in "environmental justice" communities where highways or power plants have resulted in higher levels of pollution, or who live in neighborhoods labeled as "distressed" economically.

Incentive programs have for the most part been runaway hits in the states and cities where they have been offered, including in Rhode Island which paused its application intake process last month after funds were exhausted for a rebate program, while promising to open up the application window anew by June.

Connecticut Electric Bicycle Incentive Program beneficiaries reported using their bikes in place of cars for nearly 54,000 miles in the aggregate, with three of every four saying they used their bikes for errands, and close to half for commuting. More than half of respondents indicated they would not have purchased an e-bike last year without the incentives, according to a survey by the California-based Center for Sustainable Energy, which administered the program on an outsourced basis.

The survey did not include the thousands of people who did not receive vouchers. Some who applied last year for Connecticut vouchers expressed confusion over the process in social media posts, with bike shops likewise having difficulty trying to figure things out on the fly.

For her part, Pacific Cycling & Triathlon co-owner Julie Gabay said the incentive program is a great idea in concept, but was a "debacle" in practice in the first go-around, with too small a window for people to apply and many of the better e-bike models not included in the program. A number of bike industry stalwarts never applied for inclusion on the list, including legendary brand Cannondale based in Wilton under parent company Pon Holdings.

"They never reached out to us, in the beginning," Gabay said. "If you're going to have an e-bike program, then reach out out to e-bike dealers — especially the people that make them."

Other dealers cited a "rush of vouchers" as a challenge to inventories and company cash flow. In a November forum to collect feedback on the program, they asked the state to create a dedicated hotline for assistance with any issues. But they expressed satisfaction with payment timelines otherwise, and cited the preference for June or July as the best window to run the program.

CHEAPR's board and the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection have yet to give any public indication of timing for this year's program, but has indicated it is again considering a 10-day window for people to apply.

"The demand for program funds exceeded the initial e-bike program budget that DEEP identified, so we increased the first year of funding from $500,000 to $750,000 to respond to the exceptional demand," DEEP spokesperson Paul Copleman said. "We're now working to improve the structure of the vouchers to better achieve the program's equity and environmental justice goals. We're aiming to roll out the vouchers sometime this year."

Last year, no manufacturer benefited more than Aventon, whose dealers sold nearly 300 e-bikes under the program, a third of them being its "Level.2 Commuter Bike" models that were listed this week for just under $1,700 on the Brea, Calif.-based company's website. Aventon lists 10 Connecticut dealers including The Cutting Edge in Berlin, which led all dealers statewide for bikes sold under the 2023 incentive program.

In a petition last year by a coalition of urban mobility and environmental advocates including the New Haven Coalition for Active Transportation, suggestions included increasing the price cap on qualifying models to $5,000, and lowering the incentive to $400 or $1,200 to allow more people to benefit. The petition also asked for low-income households to be at the front of the line for any incentives.

Multiple state legislatures are considering new e-bike incentives, including the New York State Assembly whose bill would offer an "instant rebate" of half off for e-bike purchases, priced at $2,200 or less. In April, Colorado became the first state to receive an instant tax credit toward the purchase, though retailers have to enroll for their bikes to be eligible under the program.

And under the proposed Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act, the federal government would offer a 30-percent tax credit of up to $1,500 on the purchase of new e-bikes.

With or without the incentives, e-bikes have juiced sales for bike shops. In Stamford, Pacific Cycling & Triathlon sold 18 e-bikes in one fell swoop last year to a Greenwich company that planned to gift them to employees. At a new parking garage for the Stewart B. McKinney Transportation Center in downtown Stamford, the Connecticut Department of Transportation included 50 charging stations for e-bikes.

Among the newest e-bikes in Gabay's showroom is the Globe Haul model by Specialized, far heavier than a standard bike and with smaller wheels but packing big enough muscle to haul a trailer. The price is well above last year's incentive cap, as the case with many similarly designed "cargo bikes" that have been hot commodities the past several years for those who pedal to work.

"That thing's a tank," Gabay said. "It's a perfect commuter bike."

©2024 The Middletown Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.