State E-bike Incentive Program Update

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The California Air Resources Board team working on the statewide e-bike incentive program is considering requiring eligible e-bikes to have batteries that meet UL or EN certifications for safety. Its current plan is to open the program for applicants via a series of six “launch windows,” each of which will close once 2500 applications are received.

The e-bike incentive workgroup held today seemed like yet one more in a long series of delays that have prevented the program from launching in a timely manner. But the workgroup’s robust, circular conversation showed how complex the answers to seemingly simple questions can be, especially when there is such a wide variety of interest, experience, and opinions on the topic of e-bikes.

“We understand you wanted the program to be launched already,” staff lead Sam Gregor acknowledged as he opened the meeting.

Safety

The proposed battery certification requirements were welcomed by many callers, and particularly those who worry about e-bike batteries catching fire while being charged. A bill currently wending through the legislature, A.B. 1271, could make the point moot anyway, as it would require all bikes sold in California to be either UL or EN certified for safety.

The proposed change involves increased incentive amounts, because certified e-bikes tend to cost more. But some of the e-bike retailers in attendance were not happy about it, and they pushed back hard. “We have always offered safe bikes, and we’ve never had a problem,” said one, who asserted that the change seemed to be for the benefit of a small number of e-bike makers.

He and others pointed to the high cost of getting UL certified, saying it could cost up to $50,000 and take up to two years to get the certification. He suggested slowing the rollout of the certification requirements for a few years, to give bike shops time to get ready – and a chance to clear out their inventory. “Obviously the money will happen,” he said, showing a refreshing optimism for the program’s success and its continued support from the state.

But other callers, some of them also e-bike sellers, applauded the proposed certification requirements. “Some of us did our homework months ago and have already gone through this process, and have been prepared with shop and insurance requirements,” said one southern California retailer. They and others have compiled a list of customers waiting for the incentive program to launch, and are impatient for it to launch.

Others said that requiring hydraulic brakes, which the program does not currently do, could make more of a difference for e-bike safety than the battery certification. But other safety issues were brought up, too, including the importance of being able to test ride, or get a repair for, a bike they purchased online, or training in how to ride it.

Outreach

The CARB team has been working to create and expand a network of community-based organizations to help with outreach. This is a positive change from the program’s early plans to rely on the existing networks within CARB’s other programs, which focus on incentives for clean cars.

CARB team lead Shaun Ransom said that the agency is preparing to give out approximately fifty mini-grants to help those organizations conduct thorough outreach, and they are also relying on a network of organizations to provide basic information.

The outreach will take time, but it will help get information to hard-to-reach populations and people who don’t typically participate in CARB programs.

Get Ready for the Launch

For people interested in and eligible to receive the incentives, now is a good time to make sure you’re eligible and get your documentation lined up, including proof of residency and income.

The project website is supposed to have a place where applicants can get a jump start by setting up a user profile and log-in, but that doesn’t seem to be available yet. Keep checking back, because once the first launch window opens, it is very likely to close quickly – even immediately. The plan is to close it once 2,500 applications have been received, so as to avoid backlogging a waiting list until the next launch window.

Eligible applicants are California residents at least 18 years old with an annual household income at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That means, for a household of one person, an applicant must make $45,180 or less; for a household of four, income must be $93,600 or less. People with incomes less than 225 percent of the federal Poverty level (so: $33,885 for one person household, $70,200 for a four-person household), or who live in a disadvantaged or low-income community as defined by law, are considered “priority applicants.” That doesn’t mean they get to jump ahead in line, though; about $5 million from the total available $31 million in the program has been set aside to make sure priority applicants get incentives. Priority applicants are also eligible for a slightly higher amount.

Check the chart at this page for details on who qualifies. There is also a link to a list of documents required for proof of income status, so those can be scanned and readied for when the applications open. All of the program’s requirements as of today are available in its “implementation manual.”

The amount of the incentives seems to still be a bit in flux, depending on what staff ultimately decide based on feedback from the workgroup. The current proposal is to give out vouchers worth $1,750 for standard, cargo, or adaptive e-bikes, and $2,000 to priority applicants.

Staff plan to open six different “launch windows,” about two months apart, to allow staff to work through applications. However that may change, as workgroup participants suggested opening fewer windows, and concluding them by the end of this year.

There was also a suggestion to institute a lottery system – something that was considered early on in the planning process – so as to avoid a situation where the windows close as soon as they open, frustrating potential applicants. “Open the floodgates – that way you will get an idea how many people want to apply,” said one commenter.

The first window is expected to open sometime during the second quarter of this year (so the clock is ticking, loudly).

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