The COVID-generated electric bike boom doesn’t appear to be slowing down despite regular bike sales leveling off from a few years ago. Nearly 500,000 ebikes were sold in the U.S. in 2021, and 880,000 ebikes were imported into the United States in 2021 alone, according to the Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA), a trade group that promotes “micromobility” devices. There are several reasons for the heightened and sustained popularity of ebikes. They include ebike rebate programs, the evolution of smaller, more efficient, and cheaper batteries, and the resurgence of ebike-sharing programs that enable consumers to experience the ease, joy, and efficiency of riding an ebike. Even though getting around on a bike isn’t as comfortable, convenient, or direct as it is in most European cities, bike infrastructure is improving on the Central Coast and across the United States.
According to U.S. Census data, about 60% of daily commuters travel less than six miles per day. A three-mile one-way trip is effortless on an ebike, even over hilly terrain. We have seen this on the local level, from UC Santa Cruz students zipping up to campus to commuters enjoying a coastal ride before and after work. Ebikes are also accessible for older individuals and people with disabilities.
According to an ebike-tracking website, there are at least 28 incentive programs to help people purchase an ebike in California. Ebike incentives are emerging as a potential way to provide green mobility technology to low-income and marginalized communities, as ebikes are more affordable to buy and maintain than electric vehicles and provide door-to-door and on-demand mobility. There is much work to be done to make ebikes a vehicle for more equitable sustainable transportation, but many of these programs are testing the viability of ebikes as a tool to increase affordable, practical, and fun transportation for all communities.
In 2022, Santa Cruz and the Central Coast had three popular ebike incentive programs with varying degrees of impact and geographic scope. In total, over 1,200 Central Coast residents purchased ebikes through these programs. Some residents stacked or aggregated two or three incentives to significantly reduce the cost of a quality ebike.
These programs offered as much as $1,100 for low-income consumers and $600 for non-income-qualified consumers. Central Coast Community Energy (CCCE) issued 1,231 ebike rebates for their customers in five counties—Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara—in less than one year. CCCE, which provides carbon-free electricity, folded its ebike incentive program into its Electrify Your Ride program, which offers rebates to purchase EVs and EV home chargers. The ebike rebates made up 29% of the overall Electrify Your Ride incentive allocation to program participants. The CCCE ebike rebate program is currently not active.
The Monterey Bay Air Resource District (Air District) revamped its ebike rebate program starting in July and depleted its $50,000 allocation in one month! Sixty-four residents in the Monterey Bay area scooped up the rebates, with 37 going to qualified low-income participants and 27 to non-income-qualified residents. The Air District’s next fiscal year starts in July 2023, so there is a possibility that it will allocate more funds to rebates at that time.
The Go Santa Cruz Downtown ebike incentive program is limited to just those who work in downtown Santa Cruz or City of Santa Cruz employees. This narrowly scoped program includes an online bike safety training webinar and has a higher rebate amount for low-income-eligible participants. The program was modified this year to increase the incentive amounts—which are still not as much as the two other regional inactive programs—that are offered at point of purchase at local bike shops only. The city-funded program also received funding from People for Bikes, the RiverStyx Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente. To date, 36 low-income-qualified participants and 43 non-income-qualified participants have used incentives to purchase an ebike locally. The City of Santa Cruz has committed to funding the program through June 2023.
There is talk of expanding the Go Santa Cruz incentive program to include Santa Cruz County residents, as interest has been expressed, but no specific funding source or amount has been secured at this time. Fortunately, the California Air Resources Board funded a $10 million statewide ebike incentive program that is scheduled to start by late spring or early summer of 2023. This point-of-purchase incentive is shaping up to be solely low-income-focused with generous incentive amounts. The California Bike Coalition, which advocated for the California program, is tracking the development of the program.
On the federal level, our region’s Congressperson Jimmy Panetta championed the EBIKE Act, but unfortunately, it was cut out of the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) focused on climate solutions. Those interested in lending their support to getting the bill passed can check out the REI Action Network campaign for a federal tax incentive to buy an ebike.
If you are looking to electrify your ride, there are still great local deals, as many ebike makers and retailers are reducing their prices to make room for 2023 inventory.