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

The state will pay you to buy an electric car. But not an electric bike? Photo: Wikimedia commons
The state will pay you to buy an electric car. But not an electric bike? 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 “…in 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.

  • sf in sf

    Good to hear from a Ting staffer that he plans to amend e-bikes into his bill. Did they say why e-bikes weren’t included from the get-go?

    I’m on the east side of SF so I’m in David Chiu’s district, but those of you represented by Ting might want to call his office and ask for this change so it’s more likely to really happen. (415) 557-2312

  • Roger R.

    Thanks for posting the #!

  • Paul Govan

    Phew – a rare breath of fresh-air logic and intelligence from the author – stating and asking what should be widely understood and proclaimed as the “screaming obvious”.
    And a generous planet-wide subsidy please for electric scooters/ e-mopeds / e-motorbikes too obviously(screamingly).
    Paul G

  • DrunkEngineer

    We need to start calling them ‘natural-gas’ vehicles as that is how most are actually powered.

  • Sean

    How does this address equity? Even with the subsidies, mostly rich people will buy these cars.

  • Jame

    It doesn’t. Not only that, many renters wouldn’t be able to plug in their vehicles to charge them at home either. Another tax break that offers more for affluent households.

  • thielges

    How about subsidizing regular human powered bikes? Even greener.

    I think that the goal of the electric car subsidy is to encourage people to shift from gas to electric and therefore reduce greenhouse gases. There are a LOT of people who would never consider traveling on two wheels. But they would be open to driving a Tesla.

  • David

    Why should taxpayers pay for rich people to buy nice e-cars? We should have a subsidy for bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, e-motorscooters, and e-motorcycles and nothing for cars of any kind. Rich people might buy the e-motorcycles too, I suppose, but at least they would take up much less space than a car.

  • Richard Boyd

    The largest commodity in rush hour is empty seats. Empty seats in the cars of the drivealones. What does it take to put people in those empty seats? For starters identify who would benefit from sharing a ride. Develop a means of compensating them and get a sock to put in the mouths of the naysayers. Ask Dave LeBlanc, VPSI or Jack Carlyle.

  • Guy Ross

    Broken record here: electric cars do NOT reduce greenhouse gasses. This is a myth that so many of us have simply accepted without even thinking about it.

  • Guy Ross

    If only there were powered by natgas. Instead, we ship that stuff all over country to convert it to electricity which is then to be placed into cars to ‘save the planet’ instead of just powering the car with it multitudes more efficiently.

  • I do totally agree that these electric car subsidies are misguided and alternative mode investment would be better.

    With that said: new vehicles tend to be bought by wealthy people regardless, so I can understand using these subsidies as a way to increase the number of electric vehicles in the second-hand market in the future, given how long vehicles tend to stay on the road.

    I’d still rather see California (and other states) invest in making _no car at all_ a more viable option in the future though, for sure.

  • Alex

    The rebate makes sense for cars. Electric cars are overly expensive while you can easily buy a cheap bike for little. Cars are the main source of transportation while bikes are only useful for short trips. I think it makes sense that they offer a rebate for electric cars and not bikes. Bikes are inexpensive and someone can easily buy a cheap bike while electric cars can cost a fortune and have only been accessible to the wealthy

  • KJ

    People can easily make trips of 10-20+ miles on electric bikes. Electric cargo bikes allow for shopping, travelling with pets, etc, most of the things you would do with a car. However, electric bikes are an investment of a few thousand dollars, more than many people can afford. Rebates could make them affordable for most people.

  • Spencer G

    many people will not switch from gas to electric without these benefits. they are making a dent in getting gas guzzlers off the streets. we should alll be in favor of this, and not only rich people buy e cars. there are many affordable ones.

  • Sean

    If you are going to subsidize e-cars, at the very least have income limits. This would most likely preclude most of Phil Ting’s base, so I doubt it will happen.

  • Taurussf

    Here’s a novel concept. Drop all the rebates and charge more for the gasoline.

  • California’s rebate program actually does already have upper income limits as well as additional incentives for low-income individuals.

  • New charging locations continue to be added all over the place, so people who can’t charge at home could still charge other places such as work, at the park or gym, while shopping, etc.

  • Still an improvement to local air quality.

  • Amazing how anti-bike (or at least indifferent to them) all these elected officials in California who are supposed to “care” about the environment, climate change, etc. really are. This shouldn’t have to be lobbied in, it should’ve been included from the start.

  • Jame

    My office doesn’t have a charger. None of the gyms I have gone to in the past decade have parking. Haven’t seen any chargers at my nearby parks and most don’t have off-street parking anyway. In fact the only place I have seen with a charger are places I rarely go to. Maybe that works in the suburbs where everything is new. But in places with established infrastructure – charging spots are rare and out of the way.

  • Guy Ross

    Natgas is clean burning. So ‘localized CO2’ is the outcome – which isn’t really a thing

    I’m not advocate per se but pumping it from Williston to burn it in Moss Landing to send it over the mountains to load it into a care in San Jose is simply stupid. If you’re burning it anyway, use the most efficient option possible: put it in car tanks.

    Basic point: I wish people would stop with the belief e autos are ‘better’ than other options. The problem is the private automobile. The rest is green washed window dressing.

  • Well I guess it’s a good thing that more and more people continue to move to the suburbs.

  • Jame

    Doesn’t mean things will get retrofitted to support charging infrastructure. I only see the new development in our local suburbs with plugs and the power output to support electric cars. Nothing older than 2006.

    And it is even worse for us to sprawl out to build net new suburb from a climate perspective.

    This is something that will continue to only be available to people who can afford to live in new construction or who live where there is a lot of new developments.

  • No support for cars older than 2006 or buildings older than 2006? I highly doubt there will be much more investment into infrastructure to support older EVs, but the obvious options for supporting any EVs are new-build or retrofit. That’s it.

  • Jame

    I mean, locally for my region, only buildings built after about 2006 have support for anything infrastructure. And that is a tiny percentage of what’s available. I have yet to see any older stuff being retrofitted at all. So it is pretty rare – even in the burbs.

  • Retrofitting is expensive and realistically not strictly necessary, especially with the proliferation of public charging stations. This is particularly true for renters who potentially can’t even afford to shell out thousands of dollars to install something if the landlord doesn’t see the value in picking up the tab themselves.

  • Jame

    Public charging stations are few and far between. And assume you can leave your car there for quite a while.

    Some of these arguments feel a little like the early days of broadband and WiFi. “Oh you can just go out and use it!” And sure enough everyone who could afford it got it at home.