Denver will open applications for 2,000 more electric bike vouchers on July 11, and add new rebates every month for the rest of the year, in response to popular demand for assistance of up to $1,200 a bike that ran out in just three weeks this spring.
Half of the July vouchers will be reserved for income-qualified applicants as part of the city’s mandate to apply climate change funds to those hurt the most by air pollution and hotter weather, according to the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, which runs the e-bike program. The rebates start at $400 for those who do not qualify by income, though some local bike shops add in more discounts; an extra $500 rebate is available for more expensive cargo bikes used to haul kids, groceries or tools.
Bike transportation advocates hailed the move as a smart and helpful reaction to the obvious popularity of e-bikes, which they say improve both the personal health of the rider and the air pollution of cities currently addicted to fossil fuel vehicles. Studies are showing e-bike rebates helping meet goals for replacing trips in gasoline-powered cars with cleaner, electricity-boosted rides.
Riders would have used a car for between 35% and 50% of e-bike trips if they hadn’t had the e-bike, said Piep van Heuven, director of government relations for Bicycle Colorado, citing a University of California Davis Institute of Transportation Studies report,
“It’s clear that there is huge demand for e-bikes,” Van Heuven said, after hearing of Denver’s expansion. “It’s also exciting to see that Denver recognized the need to provide affordable solutions by tailoring the program to respond to feedback about cost and access for low-income Denverites.”
While Denver wants to get as many e-bikes on the road as possible during the warmer and drier riding months, the climate office also wants to avoid any upset for those who miss out on early rounds of vouchers, spokeswoman Winna MacLaren said. Applications for the first round of 3,250 vouchers were filled out in the three weeks after they were released on Earth Day in April. A voucher expires 60 days after the application is approved.
“It was wonderful to learn people are so excited about e-bikes, but people need time,” she said. The battery-assisted bikes can cost $3,000, or more, and many people need test rides, training and time to plan out commuting routes if they are replacing car trips.
Denver will open rounds of applications on Aug. 1, Sept. 6, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5, MacLaren said. There is no set number of vouchers after the July 11 release. Of the first round of about 3,200 applications, 845 had been used by this week, with potentially hundreds more to be used before expiration. How many vouchers are used in early rounds may help determine how many applications are opened in later rounds.
The climate office will continue to require e-bike purchases to be made from approved local bike shops, MacLaren said. Officials want to make sure much of the money stays local, and that buyers have a place to go to for training and repairs. The e-bike rebates were part of a $9 million round of electrification rebates announced this year by Denver, paid for with some of the $40 million a year in sales taxes raised by a climate change solutions tax approved by voters in 2020.
Another part of that initial rebate program, to replace gas furnaces and water heaters with heat pumps and electric water heaters running on cleaner energy, sold out last week, MacLaren said. Denver will expand those rebates as well, but does not have details worked out, she said.
Colorado officials are preparing details on their own $12 million e-bike rebate program, which will allow vouchers for those outside Denver city limits. State officials have said they will consider allowing purchases through online retailers or big box stores to increase access for rural buyers. That program won’t begin until early 2023.
Boulder has decided against running its own e-bike rebate program for now, according to the Daily Camera, saying it would take too much staff time away from other transportation issues. Longmont is running an e-bike rebate program through its Longmont Power & Communications division, with rebates starting at $500 and moving up to $1,000 for income-qualified residents.