A bill to give Americans a $1,500 discount on the purchase of a new electric bike was introduced in Congress this week, less than a year after a similar proposal was left out of the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act.
The original Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act was introduced in 2021 as a way to help defray the costs of an e-bike, which can be expensive but has been shown to reduce car trips for many riders. The bill was amended after it was included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation but was then dropped after the bill morphed into the Inflation Reduction Act. The new E-BIKE Act is very similar to its predecessor, right down to using the exact same name, but there are several key differences.
The new bill would give a refundable tax credit of 30 percent on the purchase of a new e-bike, up to $1,500. That’s an improvement over the amended version of the previous E-BIKE Act, which would have capped the credit at $800, and in line with the original 2021 version. The credit would also be fully refundable, which would allow lower-income individuals to claim it.
The new bill would give a refundable tax credit of 30 percent on the purchase of a new e-bike, up to $1,500
Bikes that cost over $8,000 would not be eligible for the tax credit, which is an increase over the amended version that capped the price at $4,000. And income levels are adjusted as well: to get the full credit, income must be less than $150,000 for a single filer or less than $300,000 for joint filers. The previous version set income caps at $75,000 and $150,000, respectively.
“Many people are looking to get out of their cars and get on to e-bikes not just for recreation, but also for transportation purposes,” Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “Although we’re seeing more people on them in our communities, more needs to be done to ensure that everybody across our country has access to an e-bike.”
Another key difference this time around is the amount of support that’s coalescing around the bill. First of all, the number of co-sponsors on the bill has increased from two to four, including Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who introduced the Senate version last time around. There aren’t any Republican sponsors at this time, and in a divided Congress, passage is far from guaranteed.
The number of cycling and environmental advocacy groups endorsing the bill are noticeably higher this time around. The list of supporters includes PeopleForBikes, the League of American Bicyclists, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment America, US PIRG, New Urban Mobility alliance (NUMO), CalBike, REI, CALSTART, E2, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, GreenLatinos, Ecology Action, Bicycling Monterey, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Santa Cruz County Bicycle Coalition.
“Many people are looking to get out of their cars and get on to e-bikes not just for recreation, but also for transportation purposes”
That’s way more than last time, according to Slate’s David Zipper, who quotes Caron Whitaker, the deputy executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, as blaming “tepid enthusiasm from environmental supporters” as among the reasons the previous version of the bill failed.
“Much more support from advocacy groups, especially in the climate and environmental space this time around,” Noa Banayan, director of federal affairs at PeopleForBikes, said in an email to The Verge. “More members of Congress seem to understand e-bikes and their value as a climate and equity tool after watching their popularity soar in the past couple years, some representing cities and states with new incentives for e-bikes in place or in progress.”
There have been other major developments since the first E-BIKE Act was introduced. A number of cities and states have introduced their own local versions of an e-bike tax credit to much acclaim. The best example is Denver, which implemented its own voucher program that offered $400 off the purchase of a new e-bike and up to $1,200 off for low-income residents. A $500 bonus is applied to anyone purchasing an electric cargo bike.
The voucher program was wildly successful; residents scooped up the first 400 vouchers within minutes, prompting the city to fund another four rounds. Other cities and states have followed suit, with California set to enact its own $10 million program later this year.
Meanwhile, e-bike sales continue to grow by leaps and bounds, while traditional bike sales start to level out following the pandemic-era bike boom. And more companies are releasing cargo-carrying models in an explicit appeal to people and families who want to replace car trips.
The number of cycling and environmental advocacy groups endorsing the bill are noticeably higher this time around
The E-BIKE Act would also address recent concerns around battery quality after a series of fires in New York City were caused by faulty e-bike batteries. The bill would require eligible bikes to have drivetrains and batteries certified by the Underwriters Laboratory’s standard UL 2849 as a way to ensure their quality. The New York City Council recently passed legislation that also applies the UL standard to all e-bikes sold within the city.
The new bill is certainly better than the previous version, but it still has an uphill battle ahead of it. Without a Republican sponsor, it’s not clear that it can get a vote in the House of Representatives. But supporters are sounding optimistic about their chances this time around. And it’s clear that the more accessible and affordable e-bikes become, the more people start riding.
“I believe in the power of good policy to find a way,” PeopleForBikes’ Banayan said, “just as the E-BIKE Act did in [Build Back Better] in 2021 despite only getting introduced as legislation in the same year, but politics are inherently an obstacle in a divided Congress.”