CalBike recently reported on the experience of Berkeley resident Vicki Davis, who received an e-bike voucher from the Clean Cars for All program, administered by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, in December 2021. While it took some time, the process was relatively smooth for Davis to receive a $7,500 voucher in exchange for turning in an old car.
Since this program is administered by each of the regional air quality management districts, the process to get an e-bike voucher is different depending on where you live. For a different perspective, we spoke with Misch Anderson, a Pasadena resident who got a voucher through the Southern California Air Quality Management District Replace Your Ride program.
About Replace Your Ride
In 2019, CalBike helped pass a bill that added e-bikes to a program that lets people turn in older gas-powered cars in exchange for money to help buy an electric vehicle. The regional air quality management districts administer the program in each region. Because of that and because of the pandemic, the e-bike voucher program rollout has been slow and uneven.
When Misch Anderson decided to get rid of her 1996 Honda Civic in 2020, she knew about SB 400 and turned to the SCAQMD Replace Your Ride program instead of selling it. The process was a journey that took her more than two years.
“I could easily have sold that car for — I don’t even know how much money,” she says. “It would have been a lot easier than this program.” But she persevered because she wanted the program to work for her and others. Here’s what it took.
Part 1: There’s no e-bike voucher option
Anderson started investigating Replace Your Ride in May 2020 and submitted her application in July. She didn’t see an e-bike incentive listed on the website when she applied. Still, she knew e-bikes had been added to the program, so she asked about it and was told it wasn’t available yet because of California Air Resources Board funding cycles.
Because of technical issues on both sides, it took Anderson until October 2020 to submit all her documents. She was frustrated by how hard the process was to navigate. “I felt like these are the kinds of barriers I overcame,” she says, “but it’s not fair to expect the audience for this program to work around them.” (The program is aimed at low-income Californians who earn 400% of the federal poverty level or less.)
It took several months before she was assigned a case manager — probably delayed by the pandemic disruptions to people’s work routines. Once she got the case manager, she was able to resolve her paperwork issues.
The next issue was with her car: It needed to pass smog to qualify, so she needed to deal with a hole in the tailpipe. She had the impression that she should be able to get everything done and qualify for the program in about three months, but the timeline kept stretching out.
She reached out to a friend at the local bike coalition, ActiveSGV, who connected her with a bike-friendly board member. That board member emailed other board members and staff on her behalf. “Otherwise, I think my file might still be at the bottom of somebody’s desk in finance,” she says.
Anderson kept asking about an e-bike option during the process and was told it would come in a few months. By the time she successfully handed over her car in February 2021, there was still no e-bike voucher option in the SCAQMD program, so she opted for transit credit with her $7,500 voucher.
Part 2: The transit option shrinks
After she surrendered her vehicle, Anderson got a credit card that she could use to pay for transit. But, she says, “By that time, it turned out that the transit options I was planning on using the card for no longer qualified.”
She hoped to use the money to pay for ridesharing apps, but rideshare was no longer part of the program. Next, she decided to use the credit for car sharing through Zipcar, but her prepaid debit card didn’t work in Zipcar’s system. Anderson took the issue to Replace Your Ride staffers, who tried to work it out but failed. And because she started but never finished the application, Zipcar banned Anderson from the service for life.
The card worked for another carshare program, but it was only available in the LA metro area, too far from Pasadena, and it would take a very long time to use her credit for bus rides.
“This transit option is so limited as to be not very useful for me,” she says, “and certainly not the option I had hoped for and was promised in the beginning.”
Anderson kept inquiring if the e-bike option was available. When it still wasn’t listed by January of 2022, she decided to take action to get SCAQMD moving.
Part 3: Activism opens the e-bike option at SCAQMD
ActiveSGV had administered a local e-bike incentive program, and Anderson offered to connect them with Replace Your Ride for technical assistance. When she’d gotten no response to her emails by early 2022, she turned to a supportive member of the air district board for help, and he suggested she come in person to the next board meeting.
“I got up, and I basically said the Replace Your Ride Program is doing a great job of putting more cars on the road, but it’s totally failing to steer anybody toward transit and e-bikes,” Anderson recalls.
The board member asked staff to prepare a response, and, 10 minutes later, she was outside the meeting room, talking with someone in charge and being offered a spot in a pilot program for an e-bike voucher. Anderson was one of two people in the program in the spring of 2022.
The next step was to transfer her funds so she could use them for a bike rather than transit, find a bike shop participating in the program, and shop for an e-bike.
Part 4: After more than two years, a new e-bike!
Anderson picked out a Tern SPlus and got the bike shop to order it, but the bureaucratic holdups continued. She and the other person in the pilot program had both purchased bikes through the same shop, but they couldn’t pick them up until the shop completed paperwork, sent it to SCAQMD, and got a check in return.
“The bike shop ended up having to hang onto both our bikes and all our accessories, which was over $10,000 of inventory, for over six weeks,” Anderson says, noting the burden that the delay placed on the shop: “You’re asking these mostly small independent bike shops to hang onto thousands of dollars of inventory without getting paid.”
She used the balance on her $7,500 voucher (she had used some on transit tickets) for her e-bike and accessories. She’s nicknamed her Tern the E-Bike Wonder or Blueberry, and she’s having a blast riding it. “It’s fast enough to get to nearby places efficiently,” Anderson says, “but not so fast that I can’t enjoy the neighborhood as I’m passing through,” adding that she’s lucky to live in a pretty town.
“Fun doesn’t get talked about enough. We talk about benefits to our health, environment, finances, etc., and those are all well and good, but what really motivates me to get on my bike instead of into my car is that I just want to have more fun in my day.” — Misch Anderson
The Replace Your Ride program has only a tiny reference to e-bikes, and Anderson notes that “you have to be a lot in the know” to apply. She feels the program’s website should focus on transportation alternatives rather than EVs. “There is not another human being in Southern California that needs to be sold on cars,” she says. She noted that SCAQMD has hired a new staffer for the program and future applications who want an e-bike voucher might have an easier process than she did.
And Anderson is doing her part to spread the word. SCAQMD recently invited her to bring her bike to an event promoting EVs, and she told us via email, “My e-bike STOLE THE SHOW. Seriously. I barely had it unloaded (the event was far, so I had to drive it in a friend’s SUV) when people were asking about it. I let people ride it around, people of all ages, and they all pulled up looking so HAPPY!”