CalBike Proposes Rebate Program for the Ultimate ZEV

Bike Commuters
Bicycles. The Ultimate Zero-Emission Vehicles. Image: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

What vehicle produces no emissions, uses no fossil fuels, is easily maintained, costs little, gets you where you want to go quickly, and improves your health?

Well, obviously, a bicycle.

So why doesn’t the California Air Resources Board (ARB), which is spending millions of dollars on incentives and rebates to get people to buy zero-emission vehicles, offer anything similar to encourage people to buy bicycles?

The California Bicycle Coalition asked that question. Now it’s joining with several partners to ask the ARB to create a Bicycle Purchase Incentive Pilot Program as part of its ongoing vehicle rebate program.

CalBike proposes offering rebates for

half of the cost of bikes that are commonly used for commuting, up to a maximum rebate of $500. Under the program, California would pay for half the cost of cargo bikes, electric bikes, folding bikes, bike-share, and other utilitarian bicycles used for everyday transportation.

The proposed cost of the program, $10 million, is peanuts next to the $206 million ARB gives out through its Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP). And that $10 million would buy a lot more vehicles—bicycles—than the CVRP can.

And anyway, half of the CVRP rebates have gone to households with incomes over $150,000, according to testimony from the ARB’s Alberto Ayala at a legislative hearing last week on State Environmental Incentives for Low- and Moderate-Income Families. Those generally aren’t the households that need help making car payments.

ARB has tried to find ways to get incentives into the hands of people who really need the money. For example, it instituted an income cap for people receiving electric vehicle rebates—but at $250,000 for one-person households that cap is close to meaningless. ARB also adjusts rebate amounts according to income level, but Ayala admitted that it’s been a struggle to bring low-income people into the program. Even the pilot Plus-Up Program, which is specifically targeted at low- and moderate-income people, leaves the average participant with out-of-pocket costs of $12,000 after the rebate, according to Ayala.

$500 for a bike would be a lot easier to come up with.

Ayala testified that the CVRP’s priority, based on public input when it was being formed, is “the transformation of the fleet.” ARB has focused on accelerating the market for zero emission cars by encouraging people to buy, and manufacturers to make, as many different models as possible. Low production means high costs, and ARB is hoping the rebate programs will be a factor in driving down prices so that in the future they are not needed.

CalBike sees the same promise for bicycles, especially e-bikes and cargo bikes. “Providing subsidies for bicycle purchases would increase the affordability of these high-quality, zero-emission vehicles and stimulate the market for bicycles, especially for emerging technologies in electric-assist bicycles and cargo bicycles, continuing to drive down prices,” says CalBike’s letter to ARB.

Our proposal leverages the existing, successful “Increased Incentives for Public Fleets Project” which encourages public agencies to turn over their automobile fleets to electric vehicles by encouraging them to replace many of those vehicles with high-quality utilitarian bicycles, getting greater value for each dollar invested in greenhouse gas reduction.

A high-quality bike that can replace car trips—including electric bicycles, cargo bikes, folding bicycles, and other commuter-style bicycles—can cost $1,000 or more, which is a real cost barrier for low-income consumers and for families that need multiple bicycles. The CalBike proposal is careful to make sure its benefits will go where needed. It calls for income eligibility requirements, for example, and for expanding bike-share systems into low-income communities, and for corporate or public agency fleets that are located in disadvantaged communities.

CalBike has been suggesting this program to the ARB informally for a number of months, as part of the ongoing public input process on ARB’s emission reduction programs. There hasn’t been much response, so the group has drafted a letter and is gathering partners in a coalition to present the idea formally to ARB in the next week or so.

You can support the idea by signing on here.

  • farazs

    The vehicle rebate program was a bad idea to begin with! Adding new rebates for bicycles doesn’t make it any better. I expect CalBike to fight for removing subsidies from driving, in stead they want to get on the gravy train.

    Sponsoring bike-shares is always good as a part of transit strategy. Sponsoring mobility for low-income groups is sound social development strategy. But asking the government to pay for private consumer purchases is just plain insane! It does nothing to address infrastructure and safety issues which impede adoption of cycling. Availability of bicycles is not an issue – pretty much every median household either already has an old/unused/discarded bike in storage or has purposely junked a few in the last decade because they didn’t want it. This is an attempt to fix a non-problem whilst ignoring the elephant in the room.

  • jd_x

    This is a brilliant idea that makes total sense. Some work will have to be done to clarify exactly which bikes qualify since otherwise people using their bicycles purely for recreation will exploit it.

    • Transpo_nerdette

      But people using the rebate for cars aren’t required to use them primarily for commute trips, rather than visiting friends, driving to the gym, or weekend trips to the beach/mountains/country. A person who lives 10 miles from work may need a “performance” bike to make bike commuting a practical alternative to driving. I totally support making cargo bikes more financially accessible. I just get annoyed at the double standard applied to bike trips (always optional) vs. car trips (always important!), just because car trips have such bad side effects.

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