Halfpoint via shutterstock
(Halfpoint via Shutterstock)

If there is anything resembling a silver lining to the pandemic we have been living through, it is that the clean-air benefits of having fewer cars on the road became palpable. It could remain that way if we transition to electric vehicles and, in the cities, make greater use of e-bikes.

The state has a purchase incentive program for electric vehicles known by the acronym, CHEAPR, and we have an opportunity to consider expanding it to include a pilot test for e-bikes.

With people working remotely, businesses operating under restrictions or closed altogether, many cities have been inspired to think about what a more people-friendly, less polluted urban landscape/streetscape might look like. Cities and town centers have been closing streets to vehicular traffic and adding protected bike and pedestrian lanes. Parallel parking spaces have been converted to outdoor dining areas.

Sometimes these responses fit with plans already under development. For example, Hartford has a city-wide bicycle network plan approved, a Complete Streets ordinance, and a goal to reach 10% bicycle mode share by 2035 (in the Plan of Conservation and Development). Plans like this have not only environmental and lifestyle benefits, but also they would reduce overall crash fatalities, especially for people walking and biking.

E-bikes are an emission-free mode of transportation and could provide another transportation modality option for people who can’t afford a car. Or it could be a cost-effective replacement for a second car.

The opportunity to support e-bikes comes in part because the board of CHEAPR is currently considering changes to the program and because the CHEAPR program is underspent this year. The reasons for the underspending have to do with previous changes to the program, exacerbated by the recession.

We support a pilot study of an e-bike rebate targeting low and middle-income individuals and families. Our proposal is to create a carve-out from CHEAPR and conduct such a pilot in 2020. A reasonable budget could be allocated, say, in the range of $150,000 to $250,000, which would be capped. The definition of lower and middle-income, which is based on other, similarly targeted incentives being considered by CHEAPR, is an adjusted gross income of $50,000 for a single person and $75,000 for a family. There is a verification process being developed whereby the consumer would receive a voucher for the rebate.

The objective of the pilot would be to collect data: who is using the rebate, what are the e-bikes being used for, and how effective is the incentive for motivating purchase and reducing emissions.

If the pilot proves to be successful, the question becomes how to support an ongoing incentive. CHEAPR is funded from a portion of the clean-air fees. A separate allocation among those funds could support an e-bike program.

Some of the changes we have seen in the urban landscape are temporary and responsive because everything happened so fast. But some of them could be permanent, and we would all be better off for it. E-bike incentives are an idea worth exploring, and we have a near-term opportunity to learn something about how such a program would work with funds that would otherwise remain unspent.

Barry Kresch is a marketing and media research consultant from Westport and a member of the leadership team of the EV Club of Connecticut.

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