Cash rebate programs for electric cars, trucks and SUVs should be expanded to include e-bikes, say sustainability and mobility advocates.
E-bikes, or power-assisted bikes, function like traditional bicycles but are equipped with a battery-powered electric motor to provide a boost when pedaling.
Erin O’Neil of Ottawa is on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and has been scanning the market for a power-assisted adult tricycle, which can easily retail for $ 2,500 or more.
“E-bikes make it easier to be biking around, especially in a disabled body,” said O’Neil. “But it’s just not something on ODSP that I can afford.”
O’Neil adds that she has little patience for the view that an e-bike is a luxury, since for her it means gaining independence.
“It’s not a toy,” she says. “I live in an urban area and it is something that could definitely help me get around.”
While the federal government recently expanded its electric car rebate program to include SUVs and pickups, offering buyers up to $ 5,000 for cars under $ 55,000 and trucks under $ 60,000, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes were not included.
“It feels really unfair especially in a climate emergency to see people get that kind of money to drive trucks and cars around … and we’re just sitting on the sidelines,” said O’Neil. “We would like to get around just as easily as you’re getting around, but we’re not. We’re just left out.”
E-bike as a car replacement
With the birth of their second child, Jessica Barnes and her husband considered the pros and cons of buying a second vehicle.
“Often people will upgrade to a larger vehicle to accommodate a larger family, but we really did not feel good with that decision,” says Barnes.
Rather than add another car to the road, the Ottawa family decided last year to spend $ 8,000 on an e-cargo bike, complete with a front bucket to transport her two young children.
“If we wanted to make it easy on our family and functional for our family, it had to have a little bit of assistance,” she said.
While any future rebate would come too late for Barnes, she says governments need to focus more on replacing cars, not just the engines that power them.
“In order to incentivize people to buy alternative forms of transportation, there needs to be some kind of financial support,” she said.
WATCH | Commuting by e-bike in Ottawa
As for the $ 8,000 price tag of her bike, Barnes points out that she’s still coming out on top when compared to buying and owning a car.
“What’s your insurance? What’s the bill for repairs ?,” Barnes asked rhetorically. “I guarantee you, we’re spending a lot less than a person with a car.”
Plus, adds Barnes, there are the benefits for her and her kids that extend beyond the pocket book.
“It’s so much fun, they really enjoy it and can not wait to go.”
Yukon, Nova Scotia lead the way for e-bike rebates
In response to CBC’s questions as to why it provides rebates for the purchase of new electric vehicles (EVs) but not e-bikes, Transport Canada wrote back that its Zero-Emissions Vehicles program helps the industry move toward price parity between internal combustion vehicles and higher priced EVs, with the eventual goal of increasing the share of EVs on the road.
The department added it is investing $ 400M over five years to support active transportation infrastructure across Canada.
While the federal government does not currently assist e-bike buyers, several provinces, as well as Yukon, have introduced rebates of their own.
E-bike buyers in Nova Scotia stand to receive a rebate of up to $ 500, while residents in Yukon receive a rebate equal to 25 percent of the purchase price, with the amount capped at $ 750 for e-bikes and $ 1,500 for e-cargo bikes .
Businesses in BC can collect up to $ 1,700 in assistance for an e-cargo bike.
Ontario does not offer any rebates for e-bikes, however both the Liberals and the Greens are promising as part of their election platform to introduce rebates.
With e-bikes being the fastest growing segment of bike sales in Canada, the lack of an incentive program from the federal government is a glaring missed opportunity to improve sustainability according to Brian Pincott, executive director of the advocacy group Vélo Canada Bikes.
“E-bikes stand a much better chance of replacing a car,” says Pincott. “Sustainability is not simply changing a traffic jam of gas-powered cars for a traffic jam of electric-powered cars. We actually need to offer opportunities for people to get out of cars.”
Pincott adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed glaring inequalities when it comes to people’s options for getting around.
“Providing greater transportation choice to everyone builds greater equity within our communities, and we need to expand transportation choice, not just change the engine of the car,” he said.