The purpose of this article is to educate the public about e-bike incentive programs and to share the reasons that Ride Illinois and the Active Transportation Alliance are advocating to establish a program in Illinois.
Other organizations that support this initiative at this early point in our advocacy efforts include the Illinois Environmental Council and Metropolitan Planning Council. We’ll work to garner support from organizations, communities and legislators around Illinois for this initiative as our advocacy and awareness efforts progress.
Let’s start off with the basics. The dictionary defines an electric bike, or e-bike, as “a bicycle equipped with an electric motor that may be activated in order to assist with or replace pedaling.” An electric bike is not a new invention. In fact, the first e-bikes were developed in the 1890s. It’s safe to say that e-bikes have come a long way in the past 125 years!
Fast forward to the present day and modern e-bikes are the most sought after type of vehicle. In fact, e-bikes out sold motor vehicles 2:1 in the U.S in 2021 and the gap is only increasing. E-bikes are quickly becoming the vehicle of choice for trips for both transportation and recreation. They offer older and less able individuals the opportunity to continue (or start) biking. Also, the fact that e-bikes don’t emit climate-warming gasses means forward-thinking governments are including e-bikes as a solution to their climate objectives.
In Illinois, there are three approved e-bike classes. All classes limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).
People for Bikes states that “electric bicycles reduce barriers to bicycling by helping people ride more often and for longer distances. Electric bicycle incentive programs offer a low-cost, accessible and efficient solution for achieving our nation’s climate, sustainability, health and transportation goals.”
An e-bike incentive program provides vouchers to qualified individuals and businesses that reduces the purchase price of an e-bike. This is a fairly simple, yet effective, means of increasing access to e-bikes for those who can’t otherwise afford to purchase one.
There are a number of details included in the typical e-bike incentive program, such as:
E-bikes combine the bicycle’s efficiency (the “beautiful machine”) with the ease and power of an electric motor. They offer Illinois residents the opportunity to travel farther, faster, and over more difficult terrain than a regular bike. Studies show that e-bike trips do a great job of replacing car trips. Compared to other vehicles, like cars (including EVs), e-bikes are much more affordable to own and operate. Riding an e-bike is a lot of fun, plus they cause far less wear and tear on infrastructure than cars and trucks.
Unfortunately, the cost of an e-bike can be prohibitive. Many Illinois residents simply cannot afford to pay $2,000 or more for a quality, dependable e-bike to use for everyday trips. Those that own a car are basically stuck in a difficult situation. They pay to fill their vehicle’s gas tank and struggle with repair and maintenance costs that chip away at their finances.
E-bikes should be the centerpiece of a strategy to replace gas-powered car trips to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while also advancing equity, promoting public health, reducing traffic, helping families save money, and supporting local economies. Establishing a fund to offer incentives to reduce the purchase price of e-bikes will be a win for Illinois residents in urban, suburban, and rural communities. The positive impact of more trips made by e-bikes on the air we breathe, our communities, and personal finances cannot be overstated and must not be overlooked.
Earth Rider Cycling is a bike shop in Chicago that specializes in e-bike sales. When discussing an incentive program, owner Sharon Kaminecki said, “The benefits of e-bikes for transportation are easy to understand because they allow you to reduce your carbon footprint, arrive less exhausted and sweaty, are easy to park, and often allow you to fly around traffic enabling you to get to your designation faster, and are more cost-effective than an electric car. At Earth Rider Cycling we love to offer e-bike test rides because 100% of the time it results in a smile – they are fun to ride! The initial investment can be a barrier for many people, which is why it makes sense to establish an e-bike incentive program to make it possible for more people to ditch an auto and experience the joy of two-wheel transportation.”
Several states and many cities have established e-bike incentive programs in recent years. Below are summaries of existing programs that Illinois can learn from when determining the specific details of our state’s program.
In April 2022, Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency started an e-bike rebate program with participating retailers. All Denver residents qualify for $400 instant rebate and $1,200 for income-qualified applicants with incomes under 200% the federal poverty line. An additional $500 is added when purchasing an e-cargo bike.
The first year of the rebate program was budgeted for $3 million. The program experienced a large demand and was paused after three weeks and approved 3,000 vouchers. Over 4,700 vouchers have been redeemed in Denver as of the end of December.
In May 2022, the Governor signed to An Act Concerning the Connecticut Clean Air Act and it required the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to start an e-bike rebate program to all Connecticut residents.
Participants get no less than a $500 tax credit on e-bike that cost $3,000 or less. The program prioritizes residents living in environmental justice communities and households with incomes under 300% the federal poverty level with an additional $500 tax credit.
A proposed bill would set income-based tiers for an e-bike rebate: $1,000 for buyers with an income below $50,000, $500 for those between $50,000 and $100,000, and $250 for $100,000 and up. The program is expected to launch in early 2023.
In 2021, the Governor allocated $10 million in the state budget for an e-bike rebate program to all California residents. Participants will get a $750 voucher for an e-bike and a $1,500 voucher for a cargo e-bike purchase. The program provides additional incentives for residents living in disadvantaged communities and people with incomes under 225% the federal poverty level.
To qualify for the incentive program, participants’ household income is capped at 400% of the federal poverty level and the bike must be purchased from a California bike shop. The program is expected to launch in early 2023.
Portland State University is tracking e-bike incentive programs in municipalities, counties, and states. Their online tracker offers an overview of the existing incentive programs in the United States and Canada.
Ride Illinois and the Active Transportation Alliance are leading the charge (get it?) to establish an e-bike incentive program in Illinois. We are reviewing aspects of established and proposed incentive programs across the United States to outline the best program for the state of Illinois and Illinois residents.
There are some big hurdles that need to be addressed, such as a funding source and support from elected officials and decision makers. Those are details we’ll forge ahead on in the coming weeks and months. We are confident that we’ll be able to answer any questions that come our way and convince critics that there is immense value in an e-bike incentive program. In addition, we intend to lean on national organizations, such as People for Bikes and the League of American Bicyclists, for support and resources.
We’ll be sure to provide updates on progress that is made by our organizations. In the meantime, questions about e-bike incentive programs and the benefits of establishing programs in Illinois should be sent to Dave Simmons (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Alex Perez (email@example.com).