The Senate’s E-BIKE Act could make electric bikes a lot cheaper Leave a comment

A bill that would offer Americans a refundable tax credit on the purchase of a new electric bicycle was just introduced in the Senate by Ed Markey (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The bill is called the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment, or E-BIKE Act for short, and it’s the companion bill to one introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

E-bikes are more expensive than normal bikes, typically costing anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 for some of the more high-end models. But they also have the potential to replace car trips for a lot of people, with a recent study finding that if 15 percent of car trips were made by e-bike, carbon emissions would drop by 12 percent.

This afternoon, I conducted a brief interview with Senator Schatz over text message to get a sense of the legislation’s goals, its chances in Congress, and whether he himself would ever consider buying an e-bike. (He said no, but I think I got him to reconsider.)

“The idea is simple,” Schatz said, “the electrification of transportation is not just about cars, it’s about every way to get around.”

At its core, the bill is about accessibility, the senator said. More people should be riding e-bikes than just those who can afford them. Driving is already highly subsidized across the country. We build cheap — often free — areas for parking, we invest in highways, drivers don’t pay for congestion or CO2 emissions, and zoning laws and taxes favor sprawl. We need to start accommodating bikes — and especially e-bikes — if we want more people to switch to greener forms of transportation.

“The bill makes a clean alternative more accessible to more people,” Schatz said. “E-bikes make lots of sense for working people, young people, and others who either cannot afford or don’t want a car.”

Much like the House bill, Schatz and Markey’s legislation would offer Americans a refundable tax credit worth 30 percent of a new e-bike’s purchase price, capped at $1,500. All three e-bike classes would be eligible for the tax credit, but bikes with motors more powerful than 750W would not. The credit would also be fully refundable, which would allow lower-income individuals to claim it.

A common refrain you hear from critics of this legislation is that people won’t switch to bikes without safer infrastructure to support it. Protected bike lanes are still in short supply in the US, and it’s unclear whether a surge in demand for e-bikes would necessarily lead to better policy decisions on the local level.

Schatz said there needs to be a “major infusion of physical infrastructure for bike lanes and safe streets” for this bill to have the desirable outcome, which is more people switching from cars to e-bikes. There is $20 billion in President Biden’s infrastructure proposal for safe street improvements, which include bike lanes. But whether that money survives in the final deal — if there is a final deal — remains to be seen.

“I’m optimistic,” Schatz said about the potential passage of the E-BIKE Act, “but this overall package will face multiple near-death experiences before it becomes law. We plan to get it through in the coming package, but if we don’t, we will keep pushing.”

The House version of the bill has 21 co-sponsors — all Democrats — while the Senate version is just now making the rounds. But Schatz said he doesn’t think it will be a tough sell with his colleagues.

“We anticipate that we will be able to build momentum for this,” he said. “It’s one of those rare ideas that is both revolutionary and noncontroversial.”

And while Schatz said he’s only tried riding an e-bike once, while on vacation, and doesn’t have any immediate plans to buy one for himself, he would reconsider, given his newly acquired position as an advocate for this mode of transportation.

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, has a number of pedal-assist e-bikes in rotation. Just sayin’.

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