Today, Councilmember Charles Allen is introducing legislation to expand and encourage e-bike ridership and availability in the District of Columbia by creating both a rebate program for residents and providing support to District bike shops to be ready to handle the surge in demand for e-bikes.
“Although so much planning necessarily focuses on how we rapidly scale up electric vehicles, there’s a class of vehicles already outselling electric cars annually – e-bikes. For a city with ambitions to grow, the e-bike offers simple and elegant solutions to problems ranging from traffic to emissions to parking to safety to good old-fashioned exercise,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “If you’ve ridden an e-bike once, you get it. It makes travel enjoyable and safer, not an inconvenient task.”
Resident Rebates for Bikes, Locks, Fittings, and Batteries
Councilmember Allen’s Electric Bicycle Rebate Program Amendment Act of 2023 would create a refund for District residents to subsidize the costs of an e-bike (either a regular frame or cargo bike model), a bike lock, a replacement battery, and components that assist someone with a disability in using an e-bike.
The bill two tiers of rebates. First, it creates a “preferred applicant” tier that includes residents with lower incomes, with eligibility tied to enrollment in SNAP, TANF, and other public benefits, and additionally for residents who do not own a car regardless of income. Preferred applicants are additionally able to receive a rebate for annual maintenance costs up to $250 at a registered bike shop in the District, recognizing e-bikes often require more specialized repairs that may be cost-prohibitive.
The preferred applicant rebate includes all the following:
- $2,000 for the purchase of a qualifying cargo e-bike
- $1,500 for the purchase of a qualifying e-bike
- $300 for a replacement battery
- $250 for annual maintenance, to include cost of parts and labor
- $250 for e-bike or cargo e-bike parts to accommodate a disability
- $150 for a bike lock
For residents who do not meet the preferred applicant income requirements, the rebates are:
- $1,000 for the purchase of a qualifying cargo e-bike
- $750 for the purchase of a qualifying e-bike
- $150 for a replacement battery
- $125 for e-bike or cargo e-bike parts to accommodate a disability
- $75 for a bike lock
By default, the refund takes the form of rebate that residents apply for after making a qualifying purchase.
But notably, the bill also allows applicants to receive the value of the refund as a discount at the point of sale, with the District then reimbursing the retailer directly. This point-of-sale rebate ensures that residents who cannot afford the full cost of an e-bike upfront aren’t shut out of the opportunity.
Support for District Bike Shops to Ride the Wave of Increased Demand
The legislation would provide support for bicycle shops in the District by allowing shops to register with DDOT for the point-of-sale rebate and subsidizing maintenance to create repeat customers and ensure the usability of an e-bike is maximized. The bill also includes a $50,000 grant available to any business seeking to open a bike shop in Wards 7 and 8, where there currently is a shortage of retailers.
Current market trends, including lengthy supply chain timelines, make it difficult for brick-and-mortar bike shops in the District to stock enough brands and volume to satisfy customers. At the same time, there are many e-bike manufacturers selling online, especially on the low-cost end, whose quality is not reliable nor meets safety standards. The bill would require DDOT to maintain a list of approved brands to ensure that batteries and bikes meet local and federal safety standards.
Loren Copsey, owner of the Daily Rider, a bike shop in Ward 6, said, "This bill has the potential to offer people across the city a reliable, clean, and affordable transportation option that reduces motor vehicle traffic. We've already seen how an electric bike can change people's lives by providing real mobility alternatives. The future of transportation in first class cities worldwide includes transit, walking, and biking."
To meet an expected and sustained demand, the bill also includes a grant program to train District residents to be professional bike mechanics. Over and over again, bike shops report staffing remains one of the biggest challenges to their operations.
Jeremiah Lowry, Advocacy Director with the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, said, “"This exemplary piece of legislation will ensure more D.C residents have access to e-bikes while centering equity, as well as offer support to bike shops in order to help them meet the demands of an ever-growing e-bike industry.
Councilmember Allen’s bill becomes the second bill to be introduced this Council period seeking to expand e-bike ownership and use in the District, following Councilmember Pinto’s “The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstarting the Environment (E-BIKE) Act of 2023.” As Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, he plans to hold a public hearing on both bills in the coming months.
The bill is co-introduced by Councilmembers Parker, Frumin, Lewis George, Nadeau, Robert White, McDuffie, Pinto and Gray.