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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Tax credits for ebikes make too much sense


Nobody’s perfect, but when it comes to the types of radical policies that make urbanists drool, it almost always feels like they’re coming out of France. Well, we’ve got another one as France took a step towards incentivizing—in a major way—citizens to swap their vehicle for an electric bike.

From Streetsblog USA, via Reuters:

In a preliminary vote late last week, the French National Assembly voted to expand its cash-for-clunkers program to include pedal-assist bikes in addition to electric cars, offering erstwhile motorists a grant of €2,500 ($2,975) to buy an electric bicycle if they trade in a gas-powered vehicle at the same time. A spokesperson for the French Federation of Bicycle Users, Olivier Schneider, applauded the government body for actively investing in mobilité territoriales vertueuses —or “virtuous forms of transport,” as the French refer to sustainable transportation beyond electric cars — and for recognizing that “the solution is not to make cars greener, but simply to reduce their number.”

The article goes on to note we’re at least starting to see efforts like this here stateside, even if they are limited in scope.

Here in Washington, a bill that would eliminate the sales tax on electric bicycles and gear—Oooohhh, a sales tax exemption! Wowww!— passed out of committee. It’s not nearly enough, but the thought is there. Maybe?

Seattle’s own Rad Power Bikes has pushed their customers to write their lawmakers about a more substantial measure, the EBIKE Act, proposed in February by U.S. House of Representatives co-sponsors Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jimmy Panetta (California).

The legislation, if it were to become law, would provide a tax credit of 30 percent off (up to $1,500) a new electric bike priced at under $8,000. For Rad rides, my company of choice, that’d take about a $1,500 purchase down to around $1,000.

It’s important to remember credits like these are not in any way radical. Even setting aside ebike tax credit efforts globally—if you buy an electric car in the United States, you get $7,500 back from the federal government. And you know who buys electric cars? A lot of people who don’t need the tax credits.

This brings me to one of my favorite anecdotes on ebikes and cars and the idea that it’ll be electronic and autonomous versions of the latter that will save us from climate doom: Tesla pays its employees to bike or take transit to work, because providing ample space for personal car storage just doesn’t scale.

On top of that, electric cars on their own aren’t enough to stave off climate change to the level we need to.

Research out of the University of Oxford, as written about by one of the people behind it, found among other things that:

…urban residents who switched from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO₂ over the course of a year, and save the equivalent emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York. If just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behaviour in this way over the next few years, we estimate it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%.

It is noteworthy that trips by ebikes vs. standard bicycles carry a different carbon footprint, both due to charging the battery itself and from initially creating and eventually disposing of it, but it’s the point on trips that’s essential to grasp.

It’s really not all about replacing your car with a bike or ebike, it’s about replacing a percentage of your trips. And if you replace a certain percentage, a sizable percentage, perhaps that changes your car ownership structure. A two-car family may be able to go to one with an e-cargo bike two. A one-car person may go to a carshare platform for skiing and hiking if they can get everything else done via ebike.

But it’s really about starting to replace some of those trips.

Yesterday, my fiancée and I had two things outside the house to do—get our vaccination at Lumen Event Center downtown, about nine miles away, and hang out with some friends on the beach, maybe three or four miles away.

We did both via ebike, and not for environmental benefits. It was gorgeous out, and the time difference for each trip was neglible—especially when taking into account the full door-to-door count. We avoided having to deal with parking in a garage at Lumen or a half-mile away at the beach and instead pulled up right to where we needed to be. Easy and enjoyable 30ish-mile day.

I wasn’t the only one with that idea.

In so many areas, it’s time for governments to think big, to back endeavors that can bring about radical change.

Pushing more folks toward the wonders of ebikes would be a great start.

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