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Daniel Rolfe looks at a fat tire e-bike at the QuietKat booth during the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Colorado Convention Center on Thursday, Jan. 27. (Provided by Steve Peterson)

It’s official: E-bike hungry Denver residents burned through three years and $9 million of subsidies in just six months, and now we need to pause and think about what we’ve done. 

Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency announced this week it will stop releasing new e-bike purchase vouchers for the rest of 2022. The planned $9 million bike program, paid for with the 2020 climate sales tax, has “put 4,401 e-bikes on the streets and trails of Denver,” according to city officials, and cut the price of the average bike in half. 

After overwhelming demand for the rebates when the program first launched earlier this year, Denver had hoped to stretch out spending and provide more frequent opportunities by putting out monthly batches of vouchers. More releases were scheduled for early November and December. 

Instead, the rebates are coming to a halt while city officials decide how much additional money to bring into the e-bike program for a 2023 relaunch. E-bike rebates were meant to be only one part of an initial $9 million in spending that also included rebates on home electrification, including solar panels and heat pumps. All the programs are paid for by the 0.25% sales tax for climate programs passed by voters in 2020 and meant to raise about $40 million a year. 

Income-qualified buyers can receive up to $1,200 vouchers to buy e-bikes from an approved list of Denver bike shops. The rebates start at $400 for those who do not qualify by income, though some local bike shops add in other discounts. An extra $500 rebate is available for more expensive cargo bikes used to haul kids, groceries or tools.  

“We’re honored to be a part of transforming the way Denver wants to move around,” said climate office director Grace Rink, in a release. “We’re eager to bring back an expanded program that will serve more Denverites.” 

Those running climate programs hope e-bike trips — fueled more and more by clean electricity as the grid transforms with renewable generating sources — will replace fossil fuel-driven car trips for work, school or errands. Denver, though, has still not announced a plan to formally measure actual car trip reductions. E-bikes can be pedaled like a traditional bike, but the rechargeable battery pack provides pedal assist to ease the work, or in some models, a hand-twisted throttle to accelerate much like a motorcycle. 

“Denver’s success with their e-bike rebate program offers a great national model for how to help shift trips in cities to address air quality and climate issues, and solve for people’s transportation needs,” said Piep Van Heuven, director of government relations for Bicycle Colorado. “The majority of trips in cities are a distance of 6 miles or less, the perfect distance for an e-bike trip.”

Denver has tweaked the program to try to ensure lower-income residents in need of new transportation will benefit from e-bikes, which can run into the thousands of dollars. Just under half the rebates have been used by income-qualified residents, the climate office 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. 

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...