E-bike incentives key to cutting car use

The use of incentives for e-bike purchases is becoming more widespread as authorities move to speed up the transition to low/no emission transport.

An e-bike can be key to cutting car use, especially for short, local trips.

And governments and other agencies are calculating that it is worth subsidising these purchases because of the benefits from lower emissions.

A new study from the United States has found that people can be induced to make the switch, even in car-dependent places like California.

The National Centre for Sustainable Transportation, a consortium of leading universities, investigated three rebate programs in northern California for the effects of e-bike ownership on travel behaviour, including changes in bike riding, driving, use of transit, and on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Rebate recipients reported an increase in bicycle use after acquiring an e-bike, which declined over time but remained above what it had been prior to getting an e-bike.

Two months after getting an e-bike, most recipients reported shifting from riding “never” or “1–3 times per month” to riding “1–3 times per week”, with a few increasing to “daily.”

This finding suggested that programs were successful in creating an increase in bike riding in the short-term. Daily bicycling rates were lower one year later, but “1–3 times per week” riding remained elevated with a more than 20% increase compared to bicycle use before the acquisition of an e-bike.

Most e-bike rebate recipients replaced driving with their e-bikes “1–3 times per week” or “1–3 times per month”.

A large share of respondents, 82%, reported having replaced at least one car trip with their e-bike.

Over time, fewer car trips were replaced by e-bike trips. Still, nearly 40% of respondents said they replaced at least one weekly trip, even though daily driving replacement fell by about 50%, one year after acquiring an e-bike.

In a departure from the findings of similar studies in Europe, Californian participants were more likely to use their e-bikes for recreation than commuting or destination-orientated travel.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions were estimated to be 12–44 kilograms of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per rebate participant per month.

Based on self-reported car trip substitution with an e-bike and the distance of substituted trips, the researchers calculated that each program spent approximately $9.50–$18.00 per kg of CO2e reduced.

This result suggests that low fixed rebate amounts ($150–$300) are more cost-effective than large percentage rebates (50%–80% capped at $500–$800) at reducing GHGs.

However, because this study did not include a measurement of participants’ intent to purchase an e-bike regardless of the rebate, more research is needed to evaluate this possibility.

It is likely that some recipients of small rebates would have purchased their e-bikes even without a rebate, which would reduce the GHG reductions attributable to the program, the researchers reported.

Read the full report

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