Let’s help Oregon get smarter about e-bike purchase subsidies

Posted by on March 10th, 2022 at 10:52 am

“What if I told you you could get a $1,500 subsidy if you bought one?” (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The level of buzz around e-bikes in advocacy and policy circles in Oregon right now is off the charts. Specifically, there’s a ton of momentum around the idea of creating a financial incentive for people who need help buying one. At a meeting of e-bike advocates this morning that enthusiasm was on full display.

As we’ve reported, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that some type of e-bike purchase incentive bill will be introduced in the Oregon Legislature in 2023. But what type of incentive would work best? If lawmakers get behind a bill that leads to an e-bike subsidy, what should the amount be?

When this topic came up at a meeting of the E-Bikes For All Working Group (convened by Forth) this morning, Portland State University researcher and nationally renown e-bike expert John MacArthur said he and his team are actively trying to answer that question. MacArthur has already garnered attention for his work tracking the dozens of e-bike incentive programs that exist around the country. A white paper to summarize that work will come out next month.

But as the e-bike revolution grows and larger cities look to hop on the bandwagon, the incentive discussion is maturing along with it (California is leading the way with a $10 million e-bike subsidy program set to launch later this summer). Cameron Bennett, a PSU grad student who works with MacArthur, said most cities offer a subsidy between $100-$400, but, “Our inclination is that that’s way off of what’s actually going to change minds.” He thinks it will take $1,000 or more to push people over the edge, especially folks in lower-income brackets who need it most.

To better inform how to structure incentive programs, MacArthur is working on national survey to find out how much money it will take to entice buyers. But since all politics is local, before they support an e-bike incentive for Oregon, legislators have told him they want to hear directly from Oregonians. At this morning’s meeting MacArthur said he’d love to do an Oregon-specific survey, but he doesn’t have the funding to pull it off.

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(Source: PSU Transportation Research & Education Center)

In order to convene a panel of Oregonians and conduct a scientifically valid preference survey, MacArthur said he needs a minimum of $2,500 (more money would net more panelists, more data, and more credibility for the survey). And given the details of his current research contract, there’s only a short window of time to do the work.

That’s when another person at the meeting, The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone, chimed in. She asked the group if they would feel comfortable “passing the hat” to get this money raised ASAP so MacArthur and his team could get started.

One person spoke immediately and said they’d pledge $100 if nine others matched them. The chat suddenly filled with several more pledges and the tally was soon close to $1,000 in a matter of minutes! The support illustrates the intense interest among bike advocates and EV leaders to promote electric bikes.

A few minutes later, Iannarone had set up an online form she said would direct donations to this project.

If you think e-bikes have potential to help improve the lives of Oregonians and make our state a better place, please consider dropping a few bucks into the hat to make this vital piece of research into a reality.

Huge props to Iannarone at The Street Trust for taking action on this so quickly. Here’s that donation link again.

And before you say it in the comments, I agree it’s sad we have to do bake sales for stuff like this while there’s so much money splashing around electric car projects at the moment. But we can either complain about that and continue to get left at the curb, or we can do some work and move forward together.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Hippodamus
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Hippodamus

I put some cash in. Is there a way we could get updated on how much was raised, by how many donors, and what that money will buy (assuming it’s above the minimum)?

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Just to pull some figures out of thin air.
Total household income:
Less than $75K: $1,000 subsidy
$75 – $150K: $500 subsidy
Greater than $150K: $0 Subsidy

Edit: gotta watch those greater than less than symbols! Yikes!

PS
Guest
PS

Sliding scale of subsidy based on the cost of the bike and the income of the individual applying for the subsidy. Subsidy is cut off at $75k total household income. For most e-bikes and incomes under $75k the subsidy should be in the $1,000 range. All bikes are eligible for some amount of subsidy (not sure why we would exclude people who want to ride and get solid exercise), e-bikes receiving subsidy must have a maintenance plan associated with and included in the purchase of the bike. The last thing anyone using a bike lane or a bike path needs is for someone who could barely afford the bike to think brake pads, rotors, and associated drive train parts last as long on the bike as the car they may have just given up.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Why do I have to pay taxes so you can ride an E-bike?
I want a new road bike, can I get subsidy for it? Will you pay some taxes so I can get one?

nic.cota
Subscriber

Why do you pay taxes to for highways and freeways that you never drive on? Or food stamps you never use? Or yes: e-cars that you will never get to own?

You must be new to the concept that the government subsidizes a lot of goods and services for Americans other than you.

This E-bike incentive will be designed for lower-income households who could use an e-bike to replace a car or in the least reduce the costs of car transportation (maintenance/gas). Most often than not, transportation is the second highest cost (more than food!) for American households, and its undoubtedly because most of us have not option other than to drive. This will help some at least obtain the option to reduce this cost, as a standard ‘acoustic’ bike is just not feasible for most to replace these trips.

dwk
Guest
dwk

“You must be new to the concept that the government subsidizes a lot of goods and services for Americans other than you.”
I am well aware of the concept but in this case it is ridiculous.. No one has to have an e-bike. People can ride regular bikes as they always have for errands….
I don’t need to subsidize an unnecessary hobby…
Subsidies for housing makes a lot more sense and would help a lot more people.

dwk
Guest
dwk

So low income people who make $150,000 need my tax money so they can get a $500 subsidy for their E-bike?
Is this the concept I don’t understand?
Explain why this is a “fair” subsidy?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Earners of over $150,000 are much more likely to make campaign contributions to state legislators than earners who make less than $75,000.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Three days ago, I posted this comment on the Monday Roundup:

I’ve said it before and now I’m saying it again: If you offer rebates (subsidies) for ebikes but not for normal bikes, you’re doing it wrong (if your goal is to be more environmentally sustainable, anyway).

My comment–approved by one of the site admins like all others–received the most thumbs-up of any comment on the post, 23 so far. And Mr. Maus? Then posts this article COMPLETELY ignoring the hypocrisy of subsidizing ebikes and not normal bikes.

I see you, Mr. Maus.

el timito
Guest
el timito

Since the e-bike subsidy sounds onerous to your tax bill I’m curious about how intensively you have campaigned against the electric car subsidy – currently up to $7500, assuming your family of 4 brings in $111,000 or less.
If your new road bike could do much of the work of replacing a car I’d be happy to subsidize it. It just turns out that e-bikes tend to be better at more of those tasks, for more people. (I recommend the BikePortland podcast of conversations with 5 women who ride ebikes for a fuller understanding of this concept.)
Yes, I’ve hauled a lot of cargo in my day on my trusty commuter and trailer, and more when it transformed into a long-tail. But for shlepping two kids to school, plus many pounds of groceries, or traveling across town for the kid’s appointment at Kaiser – yeah, the e-assist cargo bike is getting those trips done.
Could I have done the same with the longtail? Maybe (though I’m getting older.)
Would I have done those trips – maybe 25% of them.

dwk
Guest
dwk

I am not in favor of subsidies for electric cars either… the price of gas will take care of it.
I ride 15 miles a day around Portland, see very few e-bikes out and about. Why is that?
If you like yours, great! Why do I need to pay for it?
It is not some subsidy that is keeping people from buying and using them.
They don’t cost that much to warrant it. The same people on e-bikes were using regular bikes before if you do any research, they are not bringing new people into cycling.

Chris Anderson
Guest
Chris Anderson
dwk
Guest
dwk

Good , they don’t need tax subsidies do they?

Ron
Guest
Ron

Hoping for point-of-sale implementation. Maybe get pre-approved for subsidy and show at POS. Anything other than making people who barely have money wait to get it back.

rick
Guest
rick

Make a subsidy on American-made (frames) bicycles of any kind so that’d include recumbents and trikes. Detroit Bikes, the ones welded in Detroit, aren’t crazy expensive.

David Stein (SW Correspondent)
Member

Reading through these comments I am clearly a bit confused. Our bike mode share goals are not centered around 25% of all low income Portlanders using a bicycle. The whole point of subsidies generally is to encourage a behavior and, for these specifically, to shrink the price gap between acoustic (someone else mentioned this term and I’m going to use it here) and e-assist bicycles.

My e-assist bike was over 4x the cost of my acoustic bike. While I was able to afford it and could justify this expense due to how much I ride this is a harder hill to climb for people who aren’t already riding a bike everywhere. I’d prefer for higher income Oregonians to be riding a subsidized e-assist bike than driving around in whatever SUV/pickup truck is their primary vehicle. For all the talk about BIKETOWN there is not universal coverage and the approach of using sticks for everything is not going to change behavior without some carrots, especially when the built environment is still dangerous and deficient.

Phasing out a subsidy entirely based on income is fine though you are saying that you are not interested in seeing people above a certain income ride an e-assist bike. I’d prefer a base subsidy to close the cost gap and then have an increased subsidy, as income gets lower. So maybe a $750 or $1000 base and then it can rise up to $1500 or $2000 at which point there is near cost parity between acoustic and e-assist for standard bikes and even e-cargo bikes don’t have that same sticker shock. I agree with everyone else who has mentioned this needing to be implemented at the point-of-sale as much as possible.

Something to note is that while electric cars do have lower cost of ownership than ICE models this same dynamic doesn’t really exist for e-assist bikes. Brakes wear out faster and chains need to be replaced more frequently. Servicing is also more involved.

If a subsidy does generate steam in the legislature it should be paired with a repeal of the $15 bike tax and include actual funding for off road bike paths (and on road facilities too though that would require actual oversight of ODOT for something that isn’t building more lane-miles of highways which isn’t likely).

Subsidizing acoustic bikes would also be good policy. In that case some decisions need to be made about for whom it is a good idea when it comes to modal/climate goals. Low income only? Kids? What if kids have high earning parents? Carbon road bikes that won’t be used for commuting or errands? Trikes or other non-traditional bicycles that provide access to people that can’t ride a traditional bike? Should used bikes be included? The list goes on and there’s always a tradeoff being made.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Stop calling them “acoustic”.

Just stop.

Matt's Pancreas
Guest
Matt's Pancreas

[****MODERATOR: Deleted comment, this looks like a beginning of a snippy back and forth, nipping it in the bud.***]

soren
Guest
soren

Our bike mode share goals are not centered around 25% of all low income Portlanders using a bicycle.

Speak for yourself.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

I pedal. Youre welcome.