The Build Back Better Act wants you to buy an electric car. An electr
The current Build Back Better bill (if it ever passes) would provide a financial boost to the transition to electric vehicles, providing federal tax credits for purchases of electric vehicles and e-bikes. But the incentive for electric vehicles is significant, while the incentives for bicycles are much smaller and accessible to fewer people. The difference between these incentives shows how much the Biden administration still prioritizes driving, rather than encouraging people to ditch their cars, at least for shorter trips.
According to the latest version of the Build Back Better framework, if you are looking to purchase an electric vehicle, you can expect a total tax credit of $ 12,500, if the vehicle meets certain national assembly and capacity requirements. drums. This is available for people earning up to $ 400,000 (or $ 800,000 for joint tax returns). For electric bikes, the bill includes a credit of 30% of the cost of an electric bike under $ 5,000, for a maximum credit of $ 1,500. The basic income limit for this credit is $ 75,000 for an individual, $ 112,500 for a head of household and $ 150,000 in the case of a joint declaration. The credit is reduced by $ 200 for every $ 1,000 that a taxpayer’s gross income exceeds these limits.
“There is a very wide gulf between the structure of the electric vehicle credits … and what the e-bike tax credit looks like,” says Noa Banayan, director of federal affairs at PeopleForBikes, a professional bicycle association and a rights organization. PeopleForBikes has historically focused on advocating for federal policies related to cycling infrastructure, such as building safer and more connected bike lanes, but as e-bikes have become more popular, the political focus of the organization is also.
There are several reasons for this discrepancy, Banayan says. First, there is an electric vehicle tax credit framework: an electric vehicle tax credit between $ 2,500 and $ 7,500 is already available, and the adoption of electric vehicles in particular is a major goal. of the Biden administration. “And at the end of the day, we know there’s just a big difference between owning a car and using a car and owning and using a bicycle in the United States,” she adds.
These incentives, along with the infrastructure investments currently on offer, could help close the gap between the types of transportation Americans use, but further aligning the income caps for EV credits versus e-bikes could also help. Banayan couldn’t say exactly why the income limits are so much lower for e-bike credits, but part of it may just be that electric vehicles are more well-known to policymakers than e-bikes; the main focus of the group until two years ago, before even thinking about incentives for e-bikes, “was simply to educate policy makers on what e-bikes are. They have known electric vehicles much longer.
This type of education may also be necessary for many Americans, who cannot yet see an electric bicycle fit into their lives as easily as simply replacing their gasoline car with an electric one. But although much of the country is car-centric, there is still room for many people to replace some of their driving with an electric bike ride. Dillon Fitch, co-director of the BicyclingPlus Research Collaborative at the University of California at Davis, believes the amount of incentive for e-bikes is lower because “nobody really knows if buying e-bikes will reduce the miles traveled. . There is a hesitation here.
But he is confident. “My personal thought is that the potential of e-bikes to reduce kilometers traveled in the United States is actually greater than in Europe,” he says. Looking at European e-bike incentive programs such as e-bike grants or loans, Fitch’s research found that between 35% and 50% of those e-bike rides would have been made by car, though a electric bike had not been available. . But in Europe, e-bikes and cars compete with strong public transport service. “In the United States, most of our urban environments do not have good public transportation, so the idea that e-bikes would replace car travel seems much more plausible.”
There is a caveat that many places in the United States may not have a solid cycling infrastructure either, and therefore people may not feel safe or comfortable taking an electric bicycle around. grocery shopping or dropping their children off at school. “We still have a long way to go to create comfortable cycling environments,” he says, but there is also a question that comes first: the incentives to ride and change their behavior, or redesign them. cities and streets for bicycles?
Both have to happen, cycling advocates agree, and Banayan says the number of people who can look out their front door and say they have “good enough” infrastructure to take a bike trip where they need to go is increasing. Opening their minds to this fact is the first step in getting people to replace car trips with bike rides or e-bikes. “After that you realize, what do you really need your car for that an electric bike can’t do?” ” she says. In Washington, DC, where she lives, she sees parents dropping their kids off e-bikes at school, people filling e-cargo bikes with groceries, and businesses using e-bikes for delivery. “There is a lot you could say to someone who is not yet fully aware of exactly how an e-bike can benefit them. “
And e-bikes will be key to replacing those short car trips, experts say, especially as driving increases. The difference between prioritizing the shift to electric vehicles and prioritizing the shift from cars in general to other carbon-free modes of transportation like e-bikes, is the difference between taking a short-term and long-term view of our future, says Fitch. “In the short term, yes, it makes perfect sense to promote electric vehicles, because they are going to have a much bigger impact on reducing transport emissions right now because people are self-centered in the way they travel.” , and because most people who buy an EV are replacing their fuel-powered vehicle, he says.
“But as we look further and see how much driving increases – our miles aren’t peaking, we’re driving more and more – you can clearly see on the horizon where even all-electric miles won’t be. not sustainable, ”he says. “We just drive too much.” Getting people to switch to e-bikes for at least part of their transportation would also help reduce traffic and congestion problems in cities, and make transportation fairer, while reducing overall pollution. “The big picture is that we have to get people out of cars for a lot of their time. [regular day-to-day] to travel.”
Both Fitch and Banayan note that the e-bike credit is an important inclusion in the Build Back Better framework. The dollar amount of the credit is comparable to the e-bike incentives used in Europe in recent years, says Fitch, although he prefers to see it as a fixed amount rather than a percentage of the total cost of a bike. and for there to be greater incentives for low-income Americans, rather than a cap on income eligible for credit.
Yet this electric bike credit “is the first of its kind to be discussed at the federal level, and honestly, the speed at which it has gone from the start of the idea to its inclusion in the President’s Build Back Better agenda is a big one. really important progress, ”says Banayan. But ideally, she adds, this more limited credit would be just the start. “And in a year, we can refine it, edit it and adjust it to ensure that anyone who wants to be able to ride an electric bike to replace their short car trips in the United States can do so.” “