When President Joe Biden Building back better (BBB) died this year, taking with it a long-awaited e-bike tax credit. This credit, a long-sought goal of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would have provided a tax credit of up to $900 on e-bikes costing less than $4,000 for eligible persons.
Now that pivotal Senate vote Joe Manchin (D-WV) has reached a deal on the climate bill with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), some of the BBB provisions are back in gambling. The bill, if passed, would provide almost $370 billion in federal funds to fight climate change, including a generous tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle: up to $7,500 for new vehicles made in North America and, above all, $4,000 for used vehicles (there are caps on vehicle price and buyer income on both credits) . It’s not BBB, but a consensus among green energy and sustainability advocates seems to be it is a good bill.
Unfortunately, e-bike credit is not found. It’s a shame. There is still time, technically speaking, to put it back in place, although the bill is advancing rapidly through the Democratic-controlled Senate due to both its political importance to the party and its status (a bill of reconciliation, he can pass the Senate with only 51 votes). There is no guarantee of passage, or that the bill will not change substantially; there is fierce lobbying going on right now. The other Democratic vote in the chamber – Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona –didn’t say she was on board until late Thursday night.
But if an e-bike tax credit kinda gets into the climate bill or is the subject of future legislation, it is absolutely a valid piece of public policy, and talking now helps lay the foundation to get it adopted one way or another. So if you have strong feelings about things like more people riding bikes and/or stopping our species from cooking the planet, now’s a good time to talk about it. You can find your senators contact details here.
Contrary to cynical belief, voter votes matter and original comments matter more than form letters. Here are some general points to consider when crafting your thoughts:
An e-bike tax credit is about efficiency, not fairness
Yeah, it’s a shame that huge electric SUVs qualify for a fat tax credit, but bikes don’t. But complaints about fairness are unlikely to spur lawmakers to act. What could? Points on efficiency and in terms of ability to impact emissions, e-bikes are second to none. And since transportation accounts for 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States…largest single sector— this is where we can have the greatest impact by changing behaviors.
When comparing vehicles on climate impact (two or four wheels, electric or internal combustion), the most useful framework is to look at their total carbon emissions over their lifetime. Tesla says each Model 3 will produce 36,000 kilograms (about 40 tons) of carbon emissions over its lifetime, including the cost of making it. Compared to a thermal vehicle, it’s good. But Trek’s sustainability report estimates that producing an e-bike requires around 200-240kg of carbon, or about 1/150th of Tesla’s total. Even on another basis of comparisongrams of CO2 produced per mile traveled, e-bikes are 10 to 20 times more efficient than electric vehicles.
This is partly because they are much less carbon intensive to produce, and also because they simply work much more efficiently. E-bike batteries are tiny compared to EV batteries, requiring only 2-3% of the energy to recharge that a VE does. And they are hybrid vehicles, thanks to the human power source. Charging costs are therefore minimal: even if you ride an e-bike enough to completely discharge the battery every day, you will pay between $10 and $50 per year to recharge it, depending on regional electricity tariffs. This directly reflects the amount of electrical energy used by these batteries.
The demand is there, and the cost is low
Last April, the City of Denver began offering instant discounts on e-bike purchases, including a bonus for income-eligible residents and an additional incentive for e-cargo bikes (e-mountain bikes were not eligible). It was so popular that 3,000 applications were submitted in just three weeks, temporarily halting the program. Notably, more than half of the first-round rebates went to income-qualified buyers, a strong sign that the bikes are being used for everyday transportation. California to launch its own e-bike rebate program Later this yearand the anticipation is just as high.
The price of a federal e-bike credit, versus the EV tax credit, is higher than you might think. The official Joint Budget Committee score for the original bicycle tax credit in BBB was $7.4 billion over 10 years, nearly identical to the cost of EV tax credit for new vehicles in the current bill (used electric vehicles get their own budget score line). But this comparison does not take into account the projected demand for the two options. The cost of the electric vehicle tax credit assumes that one million new eligible electric vehicles will be sold over the next decade. By comparison, the e-bike tax credit budget score is based on an estimated sales volume that is literally 10 times higher. This could be realistic: bike manufacturers have sold nearly 900,000 e-bikes. last year only in the United States., far exceeding sales of electric vehicles.
Denver’s credit illustrates the math. Of those 3,000 initial claims, the city ended up giving 863 first-round rebates for a total cost of $716,156, meaning each e-bike purchase costs about one-tenth of the maximum tax credit available to eSUV buyers in the federal bill. So think about it: for the same price over a decade, we could replace a million internal combustion cars with electric cars, or we could put 10 million e-bikes in the hands of cyclists to replace car journeys. Take a climate intervention that is 10 times the number of EV sales, is at least 10 times more effective at reducing CO2 emissions, and has a unit cost of 1/10th that of the EV program and what do you get? An extremely efficient and cost-effective tool to combat climate change. But that’s not all.
Electric bikes solve other problems that electric vehicles do not solve
The problem with electric cars is that they are still cars. They still cause traffic jams, contribute to harmful noise levels near busy roads and reject particulate pollutants brakes and tires. Because the vehicles are heavier than their internal combustion engine counterparts, they create more wear on the roads (and much more than light e-bikes). Their occupants are still sedentary and derive no direct health benefits from switching to an electric vehicle. And they can still drive distracted or angry, which might turn those big, faster acceleration machines in kinetic energy weapons around cyclists and pedestrians.
E-bikes, on the other hand, are quiet. They are small and slow enough to cause almost no damage to streets, and their light weight and relatively low speed also make them far less dangerous to other road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians. They create negligible pollution of any kind. Because you can install many more on a given section of road, there are no traffic jams. They make cities quieter, safer and more liveable while providing health benefits to their users.
For all these reasons, if you’re looking for the best return on transport-related climate investments, there’s no better way – whether it’s measured on total emissions reductions, the cost-effectiveness of those reductions or the ancillary benefits – that of enticing people to buy e-bikes for utility cycling. Adding the e-bike tax credit would not just be a victory for bikes; it would be a victory for the climate, for livable cities, for security, for all of us.
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