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Californian Local E-bike: Provide More Options in Incentives

Californian Local E-bike: Provide More Options in Incentives

The start of California’s statewide program to encourage people to ride e-bikes is getting closer, but it’s still a few months away. California gave $10 million to a rebate program to help make electric bikes more affordable. But wait a minute, it’s not working yet.

We talked to managers from two agencies in the Bay Area about the programs they run. Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE) and 511 Contra Costa (511CC) have very different programs, but both have done follow-up surveys with participants to learn more about the pros and cons of e-bike incentives.

Californian Local E-bike: Provide More Options in Incentives


Peninsula Clean Energy: E-bike vouchers for people with low incomes

PCE started the E-Bikes for Everyone program in 2021 because, as Programs Manager Phillip Kobernick said, “our end goal is to have no emissions from transportation by 2035.” Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so he says PCE thought its e-bike voucher program had “potentially a lot of VMT reduction potential.”

In 2021, PCE gave $800 vouchers to people in San Mateo County who lived in its service area and made less than 400% of the federal poverty level. Kobernick says, “It’s the most well-liked program we’ve ever made.” The program had a budget of $250,000 to give out 300 vouchers, and all of them were taken in the first four days.

In 2022, PCE raised the rebate amount to $1,000, did more targeted outreach to slow down the process, and gave out 239 vouchers.

The PCE incentive is a point-of-sale voucher, just like the statewide incentive program that will start soon. It makes deals with bike shops and sends people who qualify there to buy bikes. The buyer gets a discount equal to the value of the coupon, and PCE pays the shop the difference. Participants can also buy elsewhere and get reimbursed afterward. About half of the people in the program chose to do this. Up to 80% of the cost of the item is covered by the incentives. The remaining 20% must be paid for by the participants.

There have been a few problems with the launch. For example, about half of the people who were given vouchers didn’t use them. Follow-up surveys found that the main reasons were price, not being able to get the model they wanted, and not being able to try it out first. PCE gave unused vouchers to people on the waitlist, and funds that aren’t used roll over into the next year’s budget. They also found a few cases where people who got grants tried to sell their vouchers instead of using them.

Even though there are problems, the program is getting where it needs to go. “From our surveys, it looks like VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) are going down in a clear way,” says Kobernick. About one-third of the participants now say that an e-bike is their main way to get around, and he thinks that they have cut their average VMT by 10%. He said that most cities would jump at the chance to start a program that would cut down on vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Over the past two years, the PCE program has had a budget of $547,000, and in 2023, another round of vouchers will be given out. In 2022, El Concilio helped people fill out their applications, and PCE worked with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to offer group rides and classes to help people feel comfortable on their bikes.

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