Since 2015, the Massachusetts Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Commission has been working to expand access to non-polluting vehicles and chart a course towards a cleaner transportation future. At last Thursday’s ZEV Commission meeting, Acadia Center, Conservation Law Foundation and Sierra Club delivered recommendations to accelerate that transition to a clean transportation future (on behalf of 17 Massachusetts organizations) which included recommendations to increase access to another electric mobility option: e-bikes.
E-bikes (electric bicycles) are bicycles equipped with a battery, giving riders an electric assist as they pedal. The boost from an e-bike’s battery helps riders cover longer distances and climb hills more easily than they could on a standard bicycle. That makes cycling to work, school, transit, and other destinations a possibility for more people, including those who would otherwise be unable to make those trips due to physical limitations.
Research shows that increased use of e-bikes can significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled. In a recent survey of e-bike users conducted by the University of Tennessee and Portland State University, respondents most frequently cited replacing car trips as a reason for their purchase of an e-bike. One survey response said, “Before the e-bike I would normally only commute to work 2-3 days a week (because of the weight of my laptop, clothes, lunch, etc.). The extra weight, combined with the amount of elevation gain, would leave my legs too tired to commute more than that. However, I can now easily commute 5 days a week.”
That holds true for a new convert to e-bikes: Acadia Center’s Connecticut Director, Amy McLean-Salls (pictured below). She’s already ditching the car for trips to the grocery store, and once the Hartford office re-opens she can ride the e-bike 12 miles instead of driving to work. Amy saves on gas money and gets more exercise, and everyone else benefits from the avoided tailpipe pollution and one fewer car sitting in Hartford traffic.
However, our policies need to encourage widespread adoption of this mobility option. While e-bikes can take their riders farther than traditional bicycles, they also tend to cost more. That cost gap can be addressed, in part, through rebates, similar to the state and federal incentives currently in place to help address the cost gap between electric vehicles and traditional cars.
Cyclists, clean transportation advocates and other stakeholders are calling on states to deliver support for e-bikes. Last Monday, Acadia Center joined our partners at the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Justice in calling for the expansion of Connecticut’s CHEAPR EV rebate program to include rebates for e-bikes. And at the Massachusetts ZEV Commission meeting last Thursday, Acadia Center called for a $300 rebate for e-bike purchases, and a $500 rebate for low-income consumers and those living in environmental justice communities. Those communities suffer from inequitable exposure to transportation pollution and have less access to transit; delivering improved transit service and more mobility options should be a top priority.
Though there are many significant benefits to e-bike usage, Massachusetts currently has outdated laws that were created before the technology that is now widely used in these devices. These laws make it difficult for consumers to maximize the benefits of e-bikes by limiting access to bike paths, requiring licenses, and preventing anyone under 16 from riding legally.
Our friends at MassBike are leading an effort to bring Massachusetts e-bike regulations up to date with other states’ more modern laws. S.2071 and H.3014, which are currently sitting in the Joint Committee on Transportation, would classify e-bikes by their maximum assisted speed and whether or not the motor provides assistance if the rider is not pedaling. Classifying e-bikes as bicycles instead of mopeds is much more consistent with the technology that they use and will allow Massachusetts residents to take advantage of this innovative transportation option at a time when creative mobility solutions are desperately needed to prevent an uptick in car usage.
As offices re-open and the Commonwealth’s residents start returning to work, Massachusetts should do whatever possible to help them get to work safely, sustainably, and in ways that help avoid a return to Boston’s worst-in-the-nation traffic congestion. E-bike rebates should be part of that plan, as should updating the Commonwealth’s outdated regulations that treat low-speed e-bikes the same as high-powered mopeds. With a first-in-the-nation, state-sponsored e-bike rebate program and the passage of H.3014/S.2071, more Massachusetts residents will have access to electrified mobility options.
What you can do:
- Submit comments to the MA ZEV Commission, letting the Baker Administration know that you support e-bike rebates and other policies to advance clean transportation.
- Contact legislators on the Joint Committee on Transportation (by July 1st!), letting them know that you support e-bike legislation (H.3014/S.2071) to align our regulations with other states.
Rachel Zaff is Environmental Policy Intern at Acadia Center, based in the Boston office. She collaborates with a variety of Acadia Center staff to help execute projects on a wide range of topics including energy and transportation policy.