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E-bike incentives are a costly way to cut carbon emissions, but they also promote health, equity and cleaner air

Christopher R. Cherry, University of Tennessee; John MacArthur, Portland State University, and Luke Jones, Valdosta State University, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

The importance of e-bike incentives is that e-bikes are good at replacing car trips and make daily trips easier for people who rely on other options. These advantages provide two main classes of benefits from increasing ownership of e-bikes.

The first set of benefits comes from substituting car-based trips with e-bike trips. Transportation researchers think about a swap like this in terms of vehicle miles traveled.

If I used to drive to work but now ride an e-bike, many benefits will be proportional to the number of miles that I now cover by bike rather than by car. They include reduced traffic congestion, lower fuel and parking costs, increased physical activity and improved health, cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In North America, about 60% of e-bike trips replace car trips.

A second class of benefits comes from improvements in mobility. These effects are more complex to measure. For many people in U.S. cities who don’t own cars, the basic options for getting around are walking, public transit, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, or riding a conventional bicycle. In almost all cases, e-bikes would get them to their destinations faster.

Carless households tend to have lower income and lack mobility options. E-bike incentives can make travel more affordable and give people better access to jobs, health care, child care, shopping and other destinations. Such benefits likely far exceed any nominal greenhouse gas accounting from these transportation users.

E-bike purchase incentives are an investment in the broad benefits that e-bikes can provide. We believe they should be measured against the collective goals of the agency providing the incentives, whether its mission is transportation, equitable mobility, public health, economic development or environmental protection.

Once there’s agreement that e-bikes are worth supporting for many reasons, the challenge is how to induce more e-bike use and realize those benefits.

Point-of-purchase discounts or vouchers are the most popular strategy, because they mimic other clean energy incentives, such as those for high-efficiency appliances or electric cars. Our study found that they are also the most efficient way to influence consumer behavior compared with other purchase incentives, such as rebates.

Other strategies could be more effective but need further research. For example, e-bike lending libraries let people test-ride e-bikes without ownership. And employers can provide e-bikes to employees to help encourage more sustainable and affordable ways to get to work.

 

Partnering with community organizations or local mobility-oriented programs could be an effective way to get e-bikes into the hands of people who need them and couldn’t afford them otherwise. And giving e-bike owners more reason to use them, such as payments for biking to work, could increase e-bike use and subsequent benefits.

E-bike purchase incentives may be an expensive climate solution, but they also offer other important benefits. Carefully designed incentive programs could help many urban and suburban residents access a faster, healthier and cleaner way to get where they need to go.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Christopher R. Cherry, University of Tennessee; John MacArthur, Portland State University, and Luke Jones, Valdosta State University

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Christopher R. Cherry receives research funding from State and Federal Departments of Transportation and the National Science Foundation. He has consulted for micromobility operators and bicycling advocacy organizations.

John MacArthur has received research support and funding from state and federal agencies, the National Science Foundation, micromobility operators and bicycling advocacy organizations.

Luke Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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