US color-coded map
Map with US states color-coded to show which have e-bike incentive programs at the local and state levels. Source data is from the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University. Credit: Screengrab / Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC), Portland State University
Anthony Cherolis

Without US federal e-bike incentives, states, metro areas, towns, and utility districts are stepping in. Five states in 2023 announced new e-bike incentive programs – Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Vermont, and Washington. Across the US there are 61 active e-bike incentive programs, from town-specific programs to statewide. There are 17 more approved and on the way. Rather than a national e-bike incentive program, states and smaller governmental entities are taking the lead to spur electric vehicle micromobility.

Electric bicycle incentive programs that provide a tax credit, rebate, or voucher are becoming common in Canada and the United States. North American e-bike incentive programs are being tracked by researchers at the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University. The national E-BIKE Act is being considered at the federal level and promoted by PeopleForBikes. While the US Congress does not seem to be interested, state legislators and urban metro areas are not waiting around to move their own programs forward.

Connecticut passed e-bike legislation in 2022 and launched the incentive in July 2023. The application window closed after just 10 days with 6,344 applications. Funding was in place for only 500 vouchers in the first year. Over five thousand of the applications were for residents in cities with unhealthy air pollution levels and households with income less than 300% of the federal poverty level. Due to over subscription, the Connecticut program will first fulfill those targeted Voucher+ applications, providing up to $1,500 toward the purchase of an e-bike that retails for less than $3,000 and sold by a local bike shop.

In Denver, the 2023 e-bike rebates for city residents were snapped up 20 minutes after the application window opened. Advocates in California are pushing to increase e-bike incentive funds from $13 million to $50 million to clear the air and increase e-bike mobility in the nation’s most populous state.

In the effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, e-bikes have benefits over EV cars, e-SUVs, and e-trucks. The biggest emissions reduction is in lifecycle emissions. E-bikes are over 100 times lower in weight and battery size, which greatly reduces the greenhouse gasses emitted during the mining of raw materials and the manufacturing process. Battery raw material shortfalls are less dire in a future with more e-bikes and fewer cars. The battery on a typical e-bike weighs around seven pounds, 170 times less than the battery for the Tesla Model S. The US e-bicycle industry is already operating a nationwide battery recycling program with Call 2 Recycle and local bike shops.

E-bikes do not need a custom charging network and use simple wall outlets. In cities and towns where car parking can be scarce, e-bikes fit into the neighborhood fabric. Urban households without a garage find an e-bike, many with removable batteries, easy to plug in at home or at work. With a much smaller battery than an EV car, fully charging an e-bike costs less than a dollar.

2023 has been the year of the e-bike. As communities are looking at e-bikes as a way to get more people biking and more often, we have seen a rise in incentive programs around the US. In general these programs are providing a point-of-sale rebate with a focus on low-income populations. We have also seen an interest in additional incentives for e-cargo bikes. It will be exciting to see the results of these programs over the next year or so in getting people to shift from vehicle-based trips to biking trips. John MacArthur, Sustainable Transportation Program Manager for the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University

Connecticut’s innovative program focuses e-bike vouchers in cities, where air pollution has been historically most concentrated. California’s early e-bike and transit incentive programs encouraged low-income residents to trade-in polluting clunkers and focused on regions where reducing tailpipe pollution was most important to public health. While clearing the air, e-bikes can increase fitness for owners. Despite the electric assist, e-bike owners tend to spend a lot more time on their bikes.

With many metro regions starting to address the damage caused by interstates and excessive car-parking mandates, e-bike incentives are a transformational tool. Rather than simply aiming for a one-to-one fossil fuel to EV car tradeoff, innovative communities are planning for a future with less driving. Connecticut’s Department of Transportation announced a goal to reduce driving (vehicle miles traveled, VMT) 5% by 2030. Both Colorado and California are working at the state level with policies and infrastructure investment that will reduce driving miles while increasing transit ridership, walking, biking, and telecommuting. Will the rest of the nation follow suit? In 2030 are e-bikes going to be more common in cities and town centers than SUVs and pickup trucks?

Local leaders and advocates looking for a path to more e-bicycles in their state’s transportation mix can use the e-Bike Incentive Toolkit based on lessons learned and best practices from existing local and state-level programs.

Anthony Cherolis is a former aerospace engineer that co-founded BiCi Co. and the Transport Hartford Academy. He writes about transportation, development, and environmental topics. Anthony lives in Indianapolis, Indiana and takes an annual cross country bike tour to explore cities, towns, rural America, and beyond. Between bike tours, he enjoys working as a bike mechanic and non-profit communications consultant.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.