Washington is set to allocate millions of dollars to support the purchase or borrowing of electric bikes through a statewide program funded by the transportation budget.

According to Barb Chamberlain from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), vouchers worth up to $1200 will be provided to potential e-bike buyers starting next year. Lending libraries will also be established across the state in the near future. Since the programs are still being developed, an exact timeline is yet to be determined.

These initiatives have been implemented as part of a $2 billion spending package aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. The state’s carbon-pricing program has already collected nearly $1 billion from major climate polluters within a year.

Washington’s E-Bike Vouchers

Democratic state Sen. Sharon Shewmake explained that the goal of offering vouchers and lending libraries is to alleviate traffic congestion. The e-bike program is also designed to encourage people to abandon gas-powered cars and embrace cleaner modes of transportation. Washington’s transportation sector is the primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 39% of emissions in 2019.

The WSDOT began planning the voucher program in July. The budget has allocated $5 million over two years for vouchers, with 60% of the funds reserved for low-income households. Although $1200 e-bike vouchers are available to low-income households, medium- and high-income households are only eligible for $300.

The vouchers can be used towards most e-bikes and related equipment, excluding electric mountain bikes, helmets, and locks. It’s important to note that used e-bikes are not eligible for the vouchers.

Up to 2,300 low-income vouchers and around 6,200 smaller vouchers could potentially be accessible. The department is currently in the process of developing the application procedure, including methods to validate addresses and income levels. They’re also in contact with other cities and states with similar programs to gain insights from their experiences.

Lessons from Denver

One of these cities is Denver, which has a highly popular voucher program. To manage the demand, the city now releases vouchers in smaller monthly batches.

Despite this effort, the vouchers are usually claimed within five minutes. In Washington, officials are working towards distributing the vouchers equitably, ensuring that individuals working multiple jobs don’t miss out on this opportunity.

Similar voucher programs are being developed by four other states, inspired by Washington’s initiative.

Seattle, although lacking its own voucher program, is witnessing the continued popularity of e-bikes through ride-sharing companies such as Bird and Lime. According to the Seattle Times, the city has averaged 5,266 daily e-bike rides through all available ride-sharing platforms this month.

Denver’s e-bike program is not only popular but also successful. In less than two years, the city has distributed 6,596 vouchers.

Voucher recipients in Denver ride their e-bikes an average of 3.4 times per week. Thus far, this has translated into over 142,000 fewer vehicle miles in Denver per week. The e-bike voucher program has led to an estimated reduction of more than 2,600 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Lending Libraries and Future Studies

Shewmake aims to replicate this type of success in Washington. However, she acknowledges the high cost of e-bikes, with some listed online at over $6000. To encourage people to try them out, Shewmake proposes the creation of a series of lending libraries.

Funding for establishing libraries will not be available until the summer of 2024, according to Chamberlain. Consequently, the lending libraries will be delayed compared to the vouchers.

Chamberlain mentioned that state departments, local governments, and tribal nations will have the opportunity to apply for grants to facilitate loaning e-bikes. This will help reduce commuting trips.

Grants will also be accessible to tribes and other non-profit organizations that serve underprivileged or burdened communities.

The funding package also includes provisions for conducting studies to assess the success of the e-bike program. If the e-bike program proves to be a success, more government funding is likely to become available in the future.