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Bicycle Infrastructure

Lawmakers Want to Pay People to Buy Electric Cars… What About Bikes?

Photo: Wikimedia commons

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Planning to buy an electric car for your commute? Well, if Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) gets his way, you could soon get a bigger rebate from the state.

A.B. 1046 was passed yesterday by the Senate Transportation Committee by a 9-4 vote. Its next stop will be the Senate Appropriations Committee. Ting, who sponsored the legislation, writes that "...the state must do more to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals... The proposal gears up efforts to get more zero-emission vehicles on our roads and do so at a faster pace than ever before."

It does that by increasing a state rebate program so it would net electric car buyers $7,500, up from the $2,500 the state provides today. As Ting's office rightfully points out, transportation accounts for nearly forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California, so it's important to give incentives to buy clean cars.

Okay, but what about bikes?

To point out the screamingly obvious, not only does a bike produce zero emissions, but it doesn't take up nearly as much space, contribute as much tire pollution, waste nearly as much energy from manufacturing, or release nearly as much pollution from paint, plastics, or raw materials.

So why is it that " terms of cash, for people who bike, there's nothing," said the California Bicycle Coalition's Dave Snyder, "...not at the state or federal level." He pointed out that there used to be a $20 a month federal tax reimbursement for commuting by bike, but it was killed by the Republicans.

Car owners, meanwhile, already get a host of tax benefits for driving.

"A true 'zero emissions' mandate for California is not subsidizing five million new toxic electric cars. It's building bicycle cities," wrote Jason Henderson, advocate, writer, professor, and occasional Streetsblog contributor, in a post on social media about the legislation. He also linked to a piece by the BBC that points out that “the move to electric vehicles is most definitely not a panacea and fails to address wider concerns about public health and the kind of places where we want to live... Congestion is a costly blight in many urban areas and there is a real risk that we will end up swapping dirty, polluting traffic jams for clean, green ones."

Electric cars also don't address the carnage on our streets. The Atlantic recently ran a great chronicle on how the system all-but forces people to drive--and how that gets people killed.

Furthermore, California generates about a third of its electricity from renewables. The state is pushing for 100 percent renewable energy production, but it's not clear how it will get there. Therefore incentives to encourage people to drive electric cars, as opposed to riding transit, walking, or biking, could end up increasing smoke-stack emission.

A staffer for Ting explained that they are aware of these problems and that they hope to add a provision for electric-assist bikes to the bill. CalBike, meanwhile, is sponsoring another bill, S.B. 400, authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), which would add electric-assist bikes to the state's list of vehicles that can qualify for rebates. "The theory is that e-bikes are more likely to replace a car for longer trips [than regular bikes]; that theory is probably true," said Snyder.

"Electric-assist bicycles are introducing thousands of people to the benefits of biking for everyday transportation," wrote Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "While prices for e-bikes have come down in recent years, their cost is still out of reach for too many individuals and families." She added that her organization will help advocate for rebates for e-bikes.

So plop down over $50,000 on a Tesla, and the state will subsidize the purchase. A bike... nope. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
So plop down over $50,000 on a Tesla, and the state will subsidize the purchase. A bike... nope. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Still, it all seems a bit unfair to those of us who have for many years racked up expenses in bike repairs and maintenance but can't deduct a dime of it, let alone apply for a rebate. Tell us what you think below.

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