A few states have considered subsidizing the purchase of e-bikes to get people out of cars, but Vermont has just quietly become the first state to actually do it.
Progressive federal policy
With the progressive federal policy of providing up to $400 to low-income people, in Vermont on July 1, thousands of people became eligible for an incentive towards buying a bicycle with pedal assistance.
The new legislation was passed just last year and is one part of the state’s wider strategy to combat climate change by reducing car trips. Previous studies have directly linked the purchase of the motorcycle to some form of a vehicle substitution, with e-bikes replacing up to 50% of automobile travel.
In recent years, numerous incentive loans for electric bikes have been available to cities and their neighborhoods.
Effort to promote electric cycling
However, efforts to promote discounts statewide have had difficulty launching even when voters approve them. For example, a $10 million effort to promote electric cycling in California has yet to even appoint an administrator, while rebates in Massachusetts, New York, and Oklahoma only propose increasing energy savings. A very popular rebate program in Denver was not offered to Coloradans beyond the boundaries of the Mile High City.
The folks behind the Vermont program say that thinking beyond an individual municipality has some real advantages, and more communities may want to follow suit.
Mark Bielecki Said
Mark Bielecki of the Center for Sustainable Energy said,“It’s early on in the process, but our perspective is that a statewide program can bring a level of standardization that ultimately simplifies things a lot and can make these programs more effective in some ways,”
Bielecki acknowledges that structural reasons probably play a big part of why Vermont was able to pass its e-bike rebate across the finish line in such a short amount of time.
Vermont is the second-least populous state in America, with a population of 624,000. They already have five active electric bike incentives that have been simplified into one program. Efficiency is almost squared! More people will be offered incentive due to the simplification of incentive’s complexity.
By spending $12.3 million in incentives, Vermont will earn only $92,500 in respect to the sole value of a credit given by its electric vehicle program, meaning less than five cents of every dollar the state earns might come from its own residents who pedal through town.
Notably, while the value of a credit may not be this dismally low in other places across Europe like France and just one thousandth of what Colorado offers, the total amount each person will recoup for buying a cargo bike under Vermont’s program is still very generous due to low-income participants primarily earning less than $4,000 USD per year.
Bielecki says in her state of Vermont, the decision to legalize marijuana for all adults was easier because of its weak opposition. But because there are fewer people in Vermont as well, some may suspect that race could also have contributed to forming a smaller-than-normal opposition to their initiative.
“A lot of the e-bike initiatives that are happening across the country involve a lot of community-based organizations, advocacy groups, retailer networks and other groups that are involved in shaping what the program looks like — and that can kind of draw things out,”
Bielecki said. “Vermont did that too, but they were definitely able to pass the legislation and move on to implementing the program pretty quickly.”
Despite the e-bike project’s success, there are still many practices the project can learn from. VItal Burlington has found success with their e-bike program in reduced car usage.
Bielecki explained that the new program would make it more sustainable in the long run, since it would now be impossible for Vermonters to hop from municipality to municipality and buy multiple subsidized bikes through local rebates.
Compensate for that constraint
It would compensate for that constraint by permitting participants to buy from out-of-state and even online retailers, opening up a wide range of cheaper direct-to-consumer bicycles that can help maximize the discount’s value.
For those who prefer to buy locally, a long list of participating shops will be able to pass the incentive directly to consumers with a Vermont ID and a simple form verifying their income.
Those retailers, Bielecki says, have been crucial in getting the word out to those most likely to use their bikes for transportation.
This has been the state’s primary goal.
“A statewide model can still have that sort of localized, community-driven angle to it; that’s where these dealer networks really come into play,” he said. “They are the ones who serve local communities, they know their community members, and they tend to have repeat customers.”
However, their success with the e-bikes in US communities may lead to changes by legislative means, also.
“Vermont is the first to do this, but there are several others that are going to be close on the heels,” he said.