E-Bike Programs:

Why they are good policy - plus options for design

E-bikes - effective Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) and climate cooling tool.

The switch to electric cars is necessary, but will not happen fast enough to meet the science. In 2018, the world's climate scientists told us that we need to reduce our carbon emissions 45% by 2030 in order to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.[1]

Changing out our vehicle fleet will take decades. Auto manufacturers are not even planning on having full electric lines until 2035[2] and the most aggressive state and federal plans are on similar timetables[3]. The vast majority of the vehicles on the road will be gas powered far beyond 2030.[4] We need to help people get out of their cars now.

 

On this page we describe why e-bike programs can be effective. Then we survey the range of program design options for both governmental and corporate TDM programs being used to help people get out of their cars on to two (or three) electric assisted wheels.

On this page:

Benefits of Ebike Programs

E-bikes can be a game changer for helping people take more trips without their cars.

 

Overcome many of the challenges people have with bicycles

E-bikes are great at climbing hills, beating headwinds, hauling kids & loads and tackling long commutes all with no sweat (unless you want it). Plus e-bike riders feel safer navigating traffic with the extra acceleration power.

 

Cheaper and faster to deploy

E-bikes cost about 10% as much as an electric car. With reduced capital costs we do not have to wait until an individual owner - or fleet operator - is ready to fully replace a gas powered vehicle to put an e-bike in service and start reducing gas powered trip miles.

 

No expensive charging infrastructure required.

E-bikes charge in 2-6 hours from a regular household outlet. No panel upgrades. No permitting.

 

Insignificant demand on the grid

E-bike chargers only pull 150-400 watts from a 120 volt circuit and provide 10-20 miles of range per hour of charging.[5] Getting this rate of recovery for charging an electric car requires a Level 2 charger pulling 3-6 kW from a 240 volt circuit.

 

High energy efficiency plus major climate & material savings

E-bikes get 1000 to 4000 MPGe and are 20 times more efficient than electric cars - meaning they can go twenty times farther than an electric car for the same charging electricity carbon emissions.[6] The manufacture of an e-bike takes at least an order of magnitude less embodied energy and carbon.[7] An e-bike will go at least 30 times farther than an electric car per pound of battery - stretching those limited lithium supplies farther.[8]

Same benefits as regular bikes.

In addition to tailpipe emissions, cars car tires and brakes produce hazardous particulate emissions. E-bikes, like all bikes. produce virtually none of theses particulate emissions. Bikes & e-bikes reduce congestion and road damage. With much better driver sight lines than cars, a fraction of the mass and moving at speeds that rarely exceed 20MPH, bikes & e-bikes are far less likely to cause injury or death to pedestrians and other cyclists. Up to 10 bikes or 2-4 cargo bikes can park in the space taken by one car.

 

Expand the trips for which cycling is applicable

E-bikes provide a pathway to greater reductions in VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) by making it practical to cycle for longer trips, steeper hills, larger loads (including kids). hotter environments,  and more challenging traffic. An E-bike is not a replacement for safer bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure but can help us get VMT reductions while we are undertaking the longer project of adding bike lanes and other safety changes to our road infrastructure.  

 

Low cost carbon savings

Studies have shown that e-bike incentives are cost effective. E-bike users use their bikes for day to day commuting and errands, not just recreation. Subsidy dollars go farther. generating equal or higher carbon savings with incentive programs for e-bikes than for electric cars.[9]

Increase equity and impact

The same dollars can get many more people on e-bikes than in electric vehicles and the relatively low cost of e-bikes opens up opportunities to take electric vehicle incentive programs that have mostly catered to wealthier people into low income communities.

Good for elderly and handicapped people

Electric trikes are proving to be liberating to people who are getting less steady on their feet with age or who have lost use of a leg.

Check out Studies of e-bikes to learn more about many of these benefits.

​Programs Options to help people get on to e-bikes

While e-bikes are far cheaper than EVs, they are still significantly more expensive than an entry level pedal bike. New e-bikes range from $1500 for a basic commuter to over $5,000 for a good cargo bike. This is a lot of money, particularly for low income people and for people who have not yet experienced how an e-bike can fit into their life.

 

Government agencies, utilities, non profits and businesses around the world are experimenting with a range of program types to make e-bikes more accessible.

Purchase incentives

  • Rebates are the most common type of incentive program. They generally require purchasing the e-bike with your own cash and then filing for the rebate, except instant rebates where you can apply at the dealer.

 

  • Vouchers are used to make purchase programs more accessible to low income people who may not have the cash to advance for rebate program. These programs usually require applying to the agency for approval in advance of the bike purchase. The recipient may get a credit card or certificate that can only be used for the e-bike (and sometimes accessories), and often only at approved dealers.

  • Discounts generally are a reduction in price that the dealer gives on the spot for buyers with appropriate identification to confirm that they are eligible for a discount program.

 

  • Leases & Rent to Own usually provide low or no interest monthly payments toward ownership.

    • In Germany, a 3 year lease is provided through employers with a pretax payroll deduction program that provides savings up to 40%

  • Loans at low or zero interest rates are offered by some bike brands & dealers similar to those offered by car dealers.

Access programs

  • Bikeshare programs provide short term (by the minute or hour) bike rentals on demand and now increasingly include e-bikes.

  • Lending Libraries provide low cost (or sometimes free) loan of e-bikes for anywhere from a few days to months at a time. Bikeshare has the advantage of very ad hoc, spur of the moment usage. Lending libraries, on the other hand, allow the user to keep the bike for longer time periods, for far less cost per amount of time. "An extended loan fulfills something different than an afternoon rental: It gives users a brief taste of e-bike ownership, often with a wider choice of models, without the financial plunge."[10].The user can take the bike home and integrate it more closely into their life instead of being on the clock to finish the errand in 30 minutes.  

    • For case studies and technical support on the lending library and related concepts see:

  • Subscription programs are similar to lending libraries, but intended for longer periods. For one monthly fee the company delivers a bike and provides all necessary adjustments, insurance and repairs. There is usually a minimum contract period - such as 6 months - and a notice period for the user to end their subscription - typically one month.

  • Try Out programs are a variant on the lending library aimed at helping people to decide on purchasing an ebike. They provide longer trials than the quick round the block bike shop test rides - anywhere from a few days to three months. Often they are paired up with safe rider training.

  • Long free trials are similar to lending libraries, but with long periods - ranging from 6 months to two years - of free use of a bike. Frequently include requirements that the users log their usage and keep up a certain level of usage, such as a minimum number of miles ridden per year or number of commute trips taken per month. This has been used for studies and by employers to incentivize employees to reduce their car commute trips. Sometimes concludes with a discount to purchase the bike at the end of the period or the participants in some cases are allowed to keep the bike for free if they kept up the terms of the program. 

Infrastructure

In addition to making the bikes themselves more accessible, e-bike riders, like all cyclists and car drivers, have infrastructure obstacles:   

  • Secure Parking: E-bikes are easier to steal than cars and higher value than a standard commuter bike so more appealing to thieves. Finding a secure place to park an e-bike can be challenging, particularly in neighborhoods with high rates of multifamily and rental housing where stairs may make bringing a heavy ebike indoors impractical or there may just not be room. Parking kiosks can turn one public car parking spot into secure parking for 5-10 commuter e-bikes or 2-4 e-cargo bikes.  See examples of different types of solutions and links to vendors on the Secure bike parking page.

  • Safe streets: Of course few will want to ride if they fear getting creamed by a car. The same street calming, bike lanes and paths, and traffic controls that cities need to expand to get more people walking and on pedal bicycles will go far to speeding e-bike adoption.

Resources for designing an effective ebike program

[1] 45% reduction from 2010 levels, 100% by 2050 - ‘Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Oct 2018

[2] General Motors Sets All-Electric Target For Vehicles By 2035, NPR, February 1, 2021

[3] California to phase out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, Washington Post, Sept 23, 2020

[4] Even if we do succeed in stopping selling all gas powered cars by 2035, our transportation sector will not reach zero emissions until at least 2050.  Electric Cars Are Coming. How Long Until They Rule the Road? New York Times, March 10, 2021

[5] E-Bike 1000 MPG Study-Charging, E-Bike 1000 MPG Project, accessed 6/23/21

[6] E-Bike 1000 MPG Study-Results, E-Bike 1000 MPG Project, accessed 6/23/21

[7] reference coming shortly

[8] Environmental & Human Rights Costs of Batteries. E-bike 1000 MPG Project

[9] Several studies evaluating cost effectiveness of e-bike incentive programs are listed on the E-bike Studies page.

[10] The Power of Electric Bike Libraries, Bloomberg CityLab, October 15, 2021

[11] Free E-bikes for Everyone, New York Times, Opinion, November 22, 2021