Illinois

Ride Illinois and ATA Launch Campaign for Statewide E-Bike Incentive Program – Streetsblog Chicago

Electric bikes have the potential to be a game changer for sustainable transportation, allowing people to get around cities as basically as quickly and comfortably as driving a car, as well as transporting children and other cargo and longer distances with less effort and sweat than bicycles to be covered with conventional bicycles. They are also useful for some people with mobility issues who might not otherwise be able to ride a bike.

That could make cycling practical and attractive as a mode of transport for a much broader demographic. But the higher cost of e-bikes discourages people from buying them who would otherwise be interested in switching more of their trips to two wheels.

E-bike incentive programs such as tax credits, rebates, coupons, and lending libraries are becoming more common in North America. For example, Chicago-based nonprofit mobility justice organization Equiticity launched a Mobility Opportunities Fund earlier this month, offering North Lawndale $750 in grants to purchase electric bikes and $1,500 in vouchers to purchase e-cargo bikes. But there is no statewide incentive to buy e-bikes in Illinois.

In a new white paper from Portland State University, researchers examined more than 70 current, past and upcoming efforts to subsidize the use of electric bicycles in the United States and Canada
Map from a Spring 2022 white paper by Portland State University researchers examining over 70 current, past, and upcoming efforts to subsidize electric bicycle use in the United States and Canada.

National bicycle advocacy group Ride Illinois and the Chicago-based Active Transportation Alliance are trying to change that by pushing for an e-bike incentive program in Illinois. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Equiticity, the Illinois Environmental Council and the Metropolitan Planning Council also support the campaign.

There are three legal e-bike classes in Illinois, all of which limit the motor to 1 hp (750 W):

  • Class 1 e-bikes are pedal assist only, no throttle and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
  • Class 2 e-bikes have a top speed of 20 mph but are gas assisted.
  • Class 3 e-bikes are pedal assist only, no throttle and a top assisted speed of 28 mph.

In a post about their proposal, Ride Illinois and ATA found that as of 2021, electric bikes will have sold twice as many as cars in the United States. They pointed out that further promoting the use of e-bikes would not only benefit the people who ride them, but society as a whole by reducing congestion, pollution and wear and tear on roads and bridges.

“The benefits of e-bikes for transportation are easy to understand as they allow you to reduce your carbon footprint, arrive less exhausted and sweaty, are easy to park and often allow you to fly around traffic, so You can get to your destination faster and cheaper than an electric car,” said Sharon Kaminecki, owner of Logan Square bike shop Earth Rider Cycling.

In general, electric bikes are exponentially cheaper to buy and use than cars, but a quality e-bike can cost $2,000 or more, which many people find prohibitive. Ride Illinois and ATA noted that the national advocacy group People for Bikes has called e-bike vouchers “an affordable, accessible, and efficient solution to meeting our country’s climate, sustainability, health, and transportation goals.”

Here are some of the common characteristics of an e-bike incentive program, according to Ride Illinois and ATA:

  • Total amount of funding available
  • discount rate
  • Maximum incentive
  • Minimum and maximum purchase price
  • income qualification
  • Approved classes of e-bikes
  • Approved places to buy e-bikes

“The initial investment can be a barrier for many people, so it makes sense to set up an e-bike incentive program to allow more people to give up a car and experience the joy of two-wheeled transportation,” Kaminecki said.

Sharon Kaminecki, left, rides an e-bike with a friend.  Photo: Bob Kaminecki
Sharon Kaminecki, left, rides an e-bike with a friend. Photo: Bob Kaminecki

Ride Illinois and Active Transportation Alliance decided to join forces to lead the charge (pun intended) for the e-bike incentive program after realizing they were having the same internal discussions about what such an initiative would look like. For example, would it make sense to focus on a city-wide or state-wide program? And what incentives could be created for low-income people to buy e-bikes?

“We started having discussions with some of the other cities that have started their incentive programs, like Denver and the state of Connecticut,” ATA Advocacy Manager Alex Perez told Streetsblog. From there, they reached out to state legislators to see if there was any interest in introducing new state legislation to create an incentive program. He added that stakeholders want to ensure Illinois citizens can take advantage of the incentives from the point of purchase without having to jump through additional hurdles before purchasing an e-bike.

“It’s a mix of educating about existing programs and educating the public so they just know what that is,” said Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois. “So if it comes up or someone reads a headline ‘Illinois develops e-bike incentive program’ and [sees that the state is allocating] x million dollars, they will understand what it is and why it matters.”

Perez said interest groups and their allies are still determining where funding for the stimulus program might come from. They know they want funding for a statewide program to come from the state of Illinois rather than local governments.

“One of the things we’ve learned from other states is that these efforts often fail the first time,” Simmons said. “That’s partly because of a lack of awareness on the part of decision-makers, elected officials, but also because it’s difficult to determine where the funding is going to come from. So the goal is to work with several Illinois representatives who have expressed interest, and there is also a state senator who has expressed interest, and work with them to identify the potential sources of funding.”

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