California offers financial incentives to people who buy electric cars, recognizing that these vehicles emit far less greenhouse gas than fossil-fueled cars. E-bikes can have an even bigger impact on the environment, replacing more car trips than mechanical bicycles, while improving public health and the local economy at the same time. But electric bicycles are not cheap. E-bike purchases may be out of reach of those in disadvantaged communities where this efficient transportation option would do the most good.
That e-bikes reduce vehicle miles traveled is proven. A recent survey of North American e-bike owners (see sidebar) showed that nearly half (46%) of e-bike commute trips replaced automobile commute trips, and that the average distance for all e-bike trips was 9.3 miles. A very thorough review of studies in European countries found that e-bike trips replaced car trips 47% to 76% of the time (see sidebar).
In addition to reducing vehicle miles traveled, expedited adoption of e-bikes for transportation will accomplish a number of other important state goals. Increasing the number of people who get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day will reduce the incidence of heart disease, breast cancer, depression, and other illnesses. Plus, increasing the number of people biking creates a “safety in numbers” effect that makes bicycling safer for everyone on the street. Its positive economic impacts benefit both the individual commuter and their family as well as their larger community. Typical bike operation costs are just 4% of typical car operating costs. The savings include money diverted from gas purchases and spent in the local community where spending creates 16 times more jobs.