California Ebike Subsidy To Be Available Soon

Trade in a high-polluting car for an electric bicycle—or maybe two.

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Low-income California residents will soon be able to trade in their old high-polluting gas guzzler for an ebike or bike share voucher.Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles

California legislation enabling qualified low-income residents to trade in their high-polluting automobile for an ebike went into effect January 1, and officials are working to iron out rules and implementation of the program with the hope of issuing vouchers for ebike purchases starting as soon as this spring.

The E-Bikes for Mobility Bill (SB 400) adds ebikes and bike-sharing systems to California’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which allows low-income residents to trade in their old high polluter for money toward an electric car or receive a voucher for public transit or car sharing. The car is then scrapped.

Clean Cars 4 All has a three-tiered qualification system based on household income level, and that continues for electric car purchases. The subsidy ranges from $5,000 to $9,500 depending on income level and the replacement vehicle purchased—the cleanest vehicles for the lowest-income households receive the highest subsidies. But with a rule change made last June, participants in Clean Cars 4 All choosing an ebike purchase or other mobility option will receive a flat rate of $7,500 for their qualified trade-in.

So if you get the $7,500 voucher and buy, for instance, a $3,000 ebike, what happens with the rest of the money? That’s one of the myriad details still being ironed out, said Linda Khamoushian, policy director at the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), which is working with the California Air Resources Board to implement the program and connect the agency with the ebike industry and retailers.

Options under consideration include using the extra money to purchase accessories like locks and lights, safety equipment including helmets—or even a second ebike.

“Those are things that haven’t been established yet. For right now, the way the policy was written is that the mobility option is ebike or bike share. There’s no further detail. That’s the kind of detail that gets worked out in the process of implementation. What will be necessary for this to be successful—for people not to just go in and get the bike, but get what they need to make it a comfortable experience and ensure they’re protected?” Khamoushian said.

Clean Cars 4 All is currently administered by three air-quality districts in some of the most populous parts of the state: the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (all of Orange County plus urban areas of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties), and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District is working to join the program during the first quarter of this year, and the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District has also expressed interest in joining.

Each district has its own rules built around the California Air Resources Board’s general framework for the program. That’s how the ebike subsidies will be implemented too.

For example, in the South Coast Air Quality Management District households can’t earn more than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level in order to qualify for a trade-in. Vehicles from 1999 and back automatically qualify for trade-in in the district because their emission standards are so old. For a newer car to be considered, it must fail a smog test; the older autos don’t need to fail smog testing before trade-in, according to the SCAQMD guidelines.

It remains to be seen whether the program will cover all classes and genres of ebikes to replace vehicles.

“At CalBike, we want this to be going toward something that’s not necessarily just for recreational purposes, but things like cargo ebikes and ebikes to take the kids around—to really replace the car trip. The strongest test is, what ebikes would help with the commuting aspect of people’s lives?” CalBike’s Khamoushian said.