When you buy an electric car in California, you get help from the state. Purchases of all-electric automobiles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids are eligible for a rebate of up to $7,000. If instead, you’d like to buy what is arguably the most climate friendly practical form of transit – an electric bike – you are on your own. In 2020, we hope to change that. One of CalBike’s top agenda items is to push for a rebate program for people who purchase electric bikes, because people deserve support for biking.
The case against electric cars
Are EVs better for the environment than cars that run on gasoline? Absolutely. They don’t spew carbon dioxide or harmful toxins in their exhaust. They use energy from the electrical grid which gets about a third of its power from renewable sources and a little more than half from sources that don’t emit carbon. That’s definitely an improvement, but it’s clear that even if every Californian traded in their gas guzzler for a zero emissions car today, it would not be enough to solve our climate crisis. Besides, EVs still cause dangerous pollution, from tire and brake particulate; they create congestion, cause traffic deaths, and take up precious space in our crowded cities.
And crucially, most of the fleet is a fantasy in the short term. Sales of electric cars in California rose by more than 60% between 2017 and 2018, but they still accounted for less than 8% of all new cars sold in the state. An even smaller fraction of existing cars are electric. Californians drive approximately 35,700,000 cars; about 35,300,000 of them are not zero-emission electric vehicles. It will be a long time before a substantial number of them are electric.
Experts agree, the only way to really tackle the environmental crisis caused by cars is to reduce the use of cars. We drove ourselves into this crisis; we can’t drive ourselves out of it.
Time is running out to address the climate crisis
There are several good ways to reduce the number of miles that people travel in solo vehicles. Near the top of the list is improved public transit, transit-oriented development in walkable neighborhoods, and, of course, bicycling. While new transit services and housing construction will take years to complete, the fastest and best way to get people out of their cars is the bicycle. It’s important to move fast: as the most recent IPCC report showed, we don’t have that long.
The case for electric bikes
Bicycles are a near-perfect form of transportation. They give riders physical exercise, take up little space on the street or for parking, and they are always zero emissions. But not everyone is willing or able to get around town by bike. Barriers include physical ability, feeling too vulnerable on the road, limited range, not wanting to arrive at work sweaty, and the need to transport kids/groceries/stuff.
The e-bike is a solution to all or most of these problems. The extra power extends the range of bike trips while making riders safer. Electric cargo bikes are ideal for family transportation. In fact, studies have shown that people with access to e-bikes use them to replace car trips about 50% of the time.
However, price is a significant barrier to e-bike adoption. Electric bikes often cost over $2,000 and cargo bikes can cost even more. While the price is a fraction of the cost of buying a car, it is still a barrier for many Californians.
A rebate program for e-bike purchases would cost a fraction of the EV program. And, unlike the car-centric program, an e-bike rebate would be a significant step toward climate progress for California.
The budget process
Any e-bike rebate program will be funded through the California budget process, which runs from January through June. Here’s a rundown on this year’s budget and the prospects for e-bike rebates.
On January 10, Governor Newsom released a $222B proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The budget plan includes the allocation from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which includes incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the budget takes shape, CalBike will lobby hard to get a bicycle purchase incentive program included in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund expenditures. We don’t expect this to be easy. We’ll need your support to get e-bike rebates into the 2020 budget. You can start by signing our e-bike rebate petition, to send a message to legislators that e-bikes deserve rebates, too.
The rest of the budget is critical, too. Transportation gets $18B including almost $9B for the California Department of Transportation. There is also $220M in funding for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the state’s only pot of funds dedicated to biking and walking. The ATP funding level is about the same as last year.
The next step is for the legislature to hold hearings on the budget before passing a budget bill. State agencies and departments will submit recommendations for adjustments to the Department of Finance. Newsom will consider these recommendations along with the latest data from the Department of Finance and produce a revised budget in May. The legislature must approve a budget for the governor’s signature by midnight on June 15.
During the budget process, CalBike will advocate for maximum public engagement and a minimum expansion of road capacity. California’s priorities must be to maintain what we have, make the streets safer, and, above all, reduce vehicle miles traveled.