Thursday, August 24, 2023

Hold onto your handlebars, we’ll soon charge ahead with e-bike programs

By Brooke Nelson and Barb Chamberlain 

We appreciate your patience while we get ready for a smooth roll-out

We know you are “wheelie excited” for the e-bike incentive programs funded in the 2023-25 transportation budget to roll out, and we are too! The incentives will provide rebates and lending library/ownership programs so it's easier for people to try or buy e-bikes. With their boost up that hill and their help for tired legs hauling kids and groceries, e-bikes can replace car trips for many people. An adaptive e-bike or trike can extend mobility for someone with a disability that makes it difficult or impossible to walk very far. At the same time, they dramatically reduce transportation cost per mile along with emissions and pollutants: a win for your pocketbook, a win for clean air and water. They cost a lot less than a car but more than a traditional bike, and that cost can be a barrier. That's where the rebates come in.

We have a lot of work to do before the rubber meets the road so we don't yet have a start date. We need to make sure the handlebars, pedals, headlights, batteries, and brakes are all working before we head off on this interesting ride.

Programs to make e-bikes available to more and more people are coming season,
increasing transportation options for many.

What will be included in the e-bike incentive programs?

Washington is joining the first few states to approve statewide e-bike encouragement and incentive programs. In our case we have three models: direct individual rebates and two types of lending library/ownership grants:

  • Point-of-sale electric bike rebates: For individual purchasers, with 60% of the vouchers reserved for lower-income households. This program received $5 million in funding, which includes administration and policy research.
  • Lending library/ownership programs: For two types of grant recipients to set up lending libraries that can include a bike ownership component. This program received $2 million in funding, which includes administration and policy research.
    • Grants to other state entities, local governments, and tribes to make e-bikes available for purposes of employee commute trip reduction;
    • Grants to nonprofit organizations or tribal governments that serve persons who are low-income or reside in overburdened communities.

What won't be included?

The program incentivizes purchase of electric bicycles and tricycles, as required in the transportation budget language that established it. We've heard you'd also like to get rebates for purchase of traditional non-e-bikes, but that isn't an option under this program. E-mountain bikes aren't eligible either. It doesn't provide rebates for other forms of micromobility, whether or not they're e-assisted.

Bear in mind that this is a pilot and we'll learn a lot from the early phase. There's a fair amount of research about people's willingness to shift a car trip to an e-bike trip for everyday uses such as commuting and running errands.

How will the rebates work?

We'll set up a process for individuals that enables us to confirm residence and income eligibility and a certification process for e-bike retailers. Because we're still in the research phase we can't give you a lot of specifics about how either of those will work.

The rebate program will provide vouchers with amounts depending on household income: a rebate of up to $1,200 for someone in a low-income household, up to $300 for someone who doesn't meet that income eligibility requirement. Vouchers will be applied as a discount when you buy your bike at qualifying bike shops and can also be used on equipment like helmets and locks at the time of purchase. E-bike retailers will be reimbursed for the value of the vouchers they accept.

Incentive programs and rebates will increase the availability of e-bikes to much
larger segment of the population.

What's the income level for the bigger rebate?

The answer is “it depends”. The budget proviso sets the eligibility at 80% of the median household income for the county you live in. This is the same definition of a low-income household that HUD uses.

This table from the state Department of Commerce (PDF 140KB) lists estimated median income by county. In King County, 2022 median household income is estimated at $118,644 so 80% is $94,915. In Pend Oreille County with a median household income of $52,989, 80% comes to $42,391.

When we have a website up for the program, it will include the information you need to know eligibility for your county.

How many rebates will be available?

Our math is approximate since the vouchers are for up to the amounts in statute. We've calculated this assuming everyone who gets a voucher uses its maximum value and allowing for administrative and research costs. It comes out to around 2,300 vouchers at the $1,200 level (income-based eligibility) and around 6,200 rebates at the $300 level (no income eligibility requirement) for the 2023-25 budget.

Why aren't the rebates already available?

Here's what our team is working on:

  • Defining the nitty gritty of how this program will work. A very partial list of topics we need to have clear answers to:
    • How can we make the application process as easy as possible for you and your favorite bike shops?
    • How do we verify your income and address to know you're eligible, while providing you with essential privacy rights and data protection?
    • How do you know which types of e-bikes are eligible? (Standard e-bike, cargo, family, or adaptive bike or trike, yes. Mountain bike, no—that's in the law.)
    • How do we certify e-bike retailers so we know they have a physical presence in the state and can set up and service your awesome new ride? And how do we process vouchers as quickly as possible so they're paid for the bike that already left the shop?
  • Building in equity. We'll be setting up an application process with a system that needs to work well for everyone, not just for people with easy access to technology. We also know that the number of people who qualify will far exceed the total we can make available, and we need to plan for that.
  • Learning from other programs. Only five states have active incentive programs, three of which are just starting this summer! We're learning from others about what it takes to run a successful incentive program, and how to adapt it to work best for Washingtonians. This report by the Joint Transportation Committee (PDF 1.6MB) outlines some of the research on best practices and we're building on that.
  • Talking with e-bike retailers. We'll be connecting with shops that might accept the rebate vouchers to know what will work best for them so they and the bike buyers are both happy customers of the program.
  • Researching options for administration. Sounds boring and wonky, perhaps, but we want to run this program as efficiently as possible. We're looking into the factors that contribute to the costs of starting up and running it and how we might tap into existing processes for things like verifying income eligibility. We don't want to recreate the wheel—we want to get you onto your wheels.

What about those lending libraries? I want one in my community!

We want to set these up for success too. The funding for these programs isn't available until 2024 so they'll roll out after the rebates. Here's (some of) what we'll be figuring out:

  • Actual program costs for the grantees. It's not just buying e-bikes. It's program staffing, secure storage (at the lending location, and where you're parking them at home), maintenance, insurance, liability waivers and more. Grant amounts need to be set to make this work for everyone.
  • Essential partnerships. Who's going to maintain those bikes? And make sure the person checking them out can ride away with confidence. The most successful programs incorporate bike education with the check-out.
  • Indicators of success. Like the rebate program, the lending library grants will likely have more interested applicants than we can fund. How do we award the funds to meet program goals for equity and environmental justice? How do we and grant recipients define success?
Just like books and CDs, e-bikes will be available to check-out from lending
libraries under the new incentive program.

Don't mark your calendars just yet

In the coming months, we will be working with the University of Washington to define and set up data collection on the effects of this program; their research is one of the requirements in the funding. We'll continue to connect with many people and groups—existing lending library programs, bike shops, state agency partners, potential grant applicants—to make sure we create the best program possible for you and meet all legislative requirements.

The multiple programs will have different launch dates, and we don't have a timeline for you just yet. We'll ring our bike bells loud and clear when we're ready to roll!

How to get ready for the ride

We know you're reading media coverage that's helping generate excitement, like this piece by Washington Bikes and this one by People for Bikes. The best way to know what's happening is to subscribe to our Walk + Roll E-News to receive updates on all our programs, learning opportunities, and grants, or follow the e-bikes feed tag at the bottom of this post to get notified when we put out another article on the topic. If you want to dive into the research of the many benefits of e-bikes and rebate programs, this list of research will get you rolling.

Thanks to all of YOU for your support in making these programs possible. We can't wait to see how e-bikes can reduce car trips, emissions, and your transportation expenses; make our communities more bike and pedestrian friendly; and help you all to have an electric-powered whale of a good time while we do it.


Brian Aker said...

When are you going to start allowing the e-bike(s) that families use, like the one you have pictured, on all ferries? Maybe you could petition SoundTransit to allow them on their trains as well?

WSDOT, like all Washington State agencies, have a long way to go to understand the needs of families, groups that depend on type 2 e-bikes to enable biking, etc... who use cycling for transport.

K BROWN said...

BRIAN AKER - I haven't tried to take my Rad5 on the light rail but are you saying we are not allowed to do so? I do take it on the WSF's from Kitsap to downtown either in my car or I am riding it.

Where do I find more information on restrictions.


WSDOT said...

Brian Aker, Washington State Ferries does allow e-bikes on the vessels. The only exception is bikes that are part of a bikeshare fleet (e.g. Lime Bike, Veo).

If you run into a question at the terminal about your e-bike, ask to speak with the on-duty Terminal Supervisor as the easiest and fastest way to resolve it so you don’t miss the boat. If it doesn’t, contact Customer Service at 206-464-6400; they’ll troubleshoot and contact the Terminal Manager if needed to work with their team at the terminal.

Information page about taking your wheels onto the vessel:

Just Bikes said...

> What's the income level for the bigger rebate?
> The answer is “it depends”.

Amazing stuff after 5 months.

Can't wait to see what gets done in the next 5 months. By the time this budget gets dispersed, it could be worth 85% of what it was initially, but at least we have great confidence that it was distributed equitably.

Eric said...

Since I heard about the voucher program going forward, I was very excited. I have been saving for an ebike for a while now. However, there has been a lot of talk about only being able to purchase from local dealers. Although I am all for supporting local business, none of the affordable e-bikes are sold locally, and the e-bikes I see for sale locally are way more expensive than the affordable e-bikes on-line, over double in fact. So, those who are low income will be left out in the cold. Can you address this concern?

WSDOT said...

Eric, thanks for asking and for your interest in e-bikes. We understand the concern about finding one that fits within your budget even with the rebate, if you’re selected to receive one.

The legislation that created the program requires us to work with e-bike retailers that have a physical presence in the state, so a 100% online seller isn’t going to be an option. We’ll be developing a list of certified retailers so you’ll know what your options are when the program launches next year.

Electric-Bike Guy said...

Howdy, I am an eBike retailer with locations around the Puget Sound area. How do we get information on this program and how do we join?

WSDOT said...

Thanks for your interest! Our Active Transportation Division staff are still in program development mode researching the back-end systems for voucher application and processing, certifying e-bike retailers, and processing rebate payments. They’ll be reaching out to all e-bike retailers in the state and you’ll hear from them directly in future. In the meantime subscribe to our Walk + Roll E-News for program updates:


Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

Tom V said...

Is there an update on the timeline for the rebate program? I would like to buy an ebike, but have been since I heard about this program in the budget to pull the trigger.

Peter said...


Do we anticipate this will roll-out in Jan, or will there be a "start-date" later in 2024?

andrew said...

I am wondering the same as Peter! Will this begin in Jan 2024?

Also, would the incentive apply to e-scooters as well or only e-bikes?

Thank you, WSDOT!

Olympia John said...

I am trying hard not to see this in a negative light....... however, it has been more than a year since this legislation has passed, and there have been numerous "coming soon" announcements, and yet there has been no determined start date. I get a distinct feeling that the studies and research will end up eating up most of the money intended to get more of us onto ebikes.

Mydknyght said...

Complex means-tested programs don't lead to quick adoption timelines. In an effort to be accessible, equitable and locally sourced, we've basically missed the forest for the trees and now people have been delaying purchase decisions in hopes of someday qualifying for some uncertain future incentive that will admittedly have limited reach. IRA rebates are suffering from the same thing. Meanwhile the climate crisis gets worse every day. Tick tock, folks.

Just Bikes said...

Great work WSDOT. Maybe WSDOT can put out another post about how the lack of progress being made is actually good because privileged groups will certainly not be unfairly progressing? Just a thought.

MP said...

Very quiet here, Does WSDOT have any updates on the WA State e-bike rebate program?

David said...

I too am very interested to know the status of the rebate program.

Olympia John said...

Your article, from 8 months ago, is titled, "Hold onto your handlebars, we’ll soon charge ahead with e-bike programs." You should update with one that says, "Let go of your handlebars, no one is steering this program." You could include some discussion of how lack of accountability for Washington State tax dollars has simply become part of the accepted culture in Olympia. This is one small example of what happens when you have a one-party state with no legitimate checks or balances. Very sad.

Gabe said...

Guys, it's almost May of 2024 now...What are we doing? How does it take this long to implement this program that is in the budget? Who is responsible for getting this program going so I can make sure not to vote for them.
By the time this thing gets going it will be time to make a new transportation budget.

shawn said...

Will this E-Bike program be retro I bought 2 E-bikes a year ago to get around thanks ?

alfred said...

Rad is handing out flyers at their Ballard showroom showroom to buy now and get the rebate later. Is this accurate ?

Ken eBike Guy said...

It is definitely not going to be retroactive. The Urbanist spoke with WSDOT on this and stated plainly it will not be retro-active.

alfred said...

Next week a tariff exemption for bikes from China will lapse adding a 25% premium on many brands defeating the purpose of the rebates all due to a slow roll out.

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