A version of this feature ran in the May 2021 issue of BRAIN.
By Graeme McLaughlin
Famed political theorist Harold Lasswell succinctly defined politics as “who gets what, when and how.” It’s important to keep this in mind when discussing the value of tax credits for the desired goal. When the very word “tax” is uttered, far too many people will fall into their predisposed positions, and a tax credit for e-bikes is no different. Some will hail it as a necessary move away from fossil fuels, while others will view it as a boondoggle for “special interests.”
The reality is that this is a solution that benefits everybody.
The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act, sponsored by Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), provides a 30% tax credit (up to $1,500) for the purchase of an e-bike. While the cost of such a measure is not insignificant, it is a fraction of the expenditures currently made for other transportation-based initiatives.
With $300 million dollars newly allocated to research alone on renewable transportation alternatives, and with a federal budget of more than $70 billion, the E-BIKE Act is a reasonable way to have an immediate impact on getting people out of cars and on bikes.
Before the pandemic, it was already well established that a significant number of e-bike users ended up replacing many of their car trips with an electric bicycle. Compared with conventional bikes, e-bike riders are far more likely to use their bikes, with more than 90% using them on a daily or weekly basis. And among those riding their bikes, they are using them not just for recreational purposes but to go places. More than half of the trips taken are commuting and running errands.
Fast forward to the pandemic era where travel and workspaces have been reimagined, and two-wheeled transportation has become even more important. At this moment, opportunities exist to get more people out of their cars and on a mode of transportation that provides fitness, enjoyment, convenience, and practicality: an e-bike.
People have been commuting by bicycle long before motors were attached, but the ability for regular people to easily and conveniently get around has never been as easy as it is today. With e-bikes, commute times are shortened, the terrain is flattened, and the ability to arrive at work in a more presentable fashion is greatly increased. In the early days of our company’s beginning 10 years ago, e-bikes were an oddity that I often had to explain to people, and the hardcore commuters and cycling enthusiasts — of which I am one — would look at them with a combination of wonderment and derision. It was also pretty rare to actually encounter one “out in the wild.” It is now nearly impossible for me to go out on a ride without seeing an e-bike, and along the major commuting routes, e-bikes now outnumber pedal bikes. Most importantly, the folks out riding aren’t just fellow bike enthusiasts but regular every-day people.
Still, cars greatly outnumber bikes — powered or otherwise — and the overall number of two-wheeled commuters is still relatively low. One of the most significant barriers to getting people on e-bikes is the initial cost. Reducing that initial purchase price is an immediate and significant way to get more people on bikes. When coupled with the reduced costs of ownership when compared to the automotive alternative, an e-bike becomes a legitimate transportation alternative.
“We are at a critical time, not just for our environment, but how transportation is viewed and practiced,” said Boris Mordkovich, Evelo CEO & founder. “There is no better time than now to act. In a world that is often a zero-sum game, this is truly a situation where everybody wins.”
Tax credits have been used for almost every other mode of transportation, from credits to fossil-fuel producers to automobile manufacturers; meanwhile, the most simple form of transportation has largely been ignored.
It’s an easy case to make those incentivizing people to start taking trips on e-bikes as it helps everybody. Less carbon dioxide emissions, an overall increase in wellness, and fewer cars on the roads are just some of the benefits.
Even those who will never put a leg over a bicycle benefit when there is less congestion. Tax credits for e-bike purchases put money directly to work and will result in tangible benefits.
Graeme McLaughlin is head of marketing at Evelo, a data nerd, and an e-bike enthusiast who is always excited about testing new bikes. After years of riding and coming from a career in cycle sales, he is still passionate about bicycles. Based in Vancouver, he enjoys riding everything from solo adventures in the mountains to big social night rides.