BANFF – The Town of Banff is gearing up to roll out its new rebate program for electric bikes.
The $42,000 program, to be funded from profits from visitor paid parking, got the final nod of approval in the 2022-24 operating budget and should be introduced in late February.
Councillor Barb Pelham was successful in her attempt to cap the cost of an e-bike at $5,000 as part of the eligibility criteria.
“The intention of this motion is to ensure that the e-bikes being purchased with this subsidy are e-bikes whose primary function would be commuting around town,” she said.
“The really beautiful mountain e-bikes and road e-bikes run quite a bit higher than $5,000 so I think $5,000 is a good lid in terms of a commuter-style bike.”
There are many different types of e-bikes, with some only having a small motor to assist a rider to pedal. E-bikes use rechargeable batteries and can travel up to 25-32 km/h.
Councillor Kaylee Ram voiced strong support for Coun. Pelham’s move, saying the cap on the price of an e-bike means the rebate program won’t be abused.
“The priority for this really is for people who couldn’t afford an e-bike to begin with, or those who want to get into it more, or have as their main transportation,” she said.
“The likelihood of them being able to afford something over $5,000 is minimal and this is just to ensure that the priority is really given for those who want to use this as their primary transportation and not another addition into someone’s garage.”
The $42,000 program – up to $40,000 for e-bike rebates and $2,000 for marketing and communications – will allow for between 40 and 80 e-bikes.
The program includes a 30 per cent rebate of up to $750 on the total purchase per residential household, and a 20 per cent rebate capped at $750 for businesses, with a maximum of two e-bikes per business.
There is also a sliding scale for residents who are part of the low-income Banff Access program – 50 per cent or up to $1,000 of the purchase cost for tier 1 and 40 per cent or up to $900 of the purchase cost for tier 2.
Town of Banff officials say incentives are effective because the average price for an e-bike – about $3,500 in North America – can be a significant financial barrier, especially for low-income earners and families.
With the recent boom of e-bikes, they say researchers have begun to study e-bike purchase incentive programs and have found they can be an effective tool to reduce regular vehicle use.
“Recent studies have shown that e-bikes encourage users to travel farther and more often than traditional bicycles,” said Michael Hay, the Town of Banff’s environment and sustainability manager.
Hay pointed to a study in the United States that found 62 per cent of e-bike trips replaced trips that otherwise would have been taken by car. Of those, 45.8 per cent were commute trips to work or school.
“Another e-bike lending study found that compared to before the trial, the amount of people commuting to work by bicycle in the study group doubled from 28 per cent to 59 per cent,” he said.
Councillor Hugh Pettigrew relentlessly tried to have conventional pedal bikes included in the rebate program, but lost on a 5-2 vote with support coming only from Coun. Ted Christensen.
He said the cost of an e-bike even with the rebate is beyond the financial means of most people, adding the municipality was creating a two-tier system without adding regular bikes.
“I don’t think anybody that is on minimum wages, with tips in some cases, are going to be able to even get a loan to get a bicycle of that sort, never mind being able to afford one on their own,” he said.
“Not everybody has the same means to participate in these programs.”
Mayor Corrie DiManno pointed to the rummage sale from lost and found regular bikes collected by the bylaw department throughout the year.
“They do sell bikes for anywhere between $20 and $25, so we do have a program in which we try to get bikes out there in a very affordable way and I believe we’re fulfilling that need currently,” she said.
Mayor DiManno said bike racks in summer are filled to the brim with conventional bikes and added an e-bike rebate program aims to encourage mode shift.
“So we don’t need to incentivize conventional biking, but I do think we have a long way to go in terms of creating the infrastructure for conventional biking,” she said.
Councillor Olver also voted against including conventional bikes, saying the rummage sale and the non-profit Community Cruisers helps residents get on bicycles at reasonable prices. However, after a break in the hours-long meeting, Coun. Olver came back to say she did want regular bikes included in the rebate program.
After losing the vote on his motion, Coun. Pettigrew then tried to cut the rebate program from $40,000 to $20,000 – the original amount proposed by administration early in service review.
“I am a bit disappointed that we think that residents that can’t afford an e-bike need to be satisfied with a used or repaired bike… I was hoping to close the gap between those who can and those who can’t,” he said.
“If we can’t do this, I will certainly make a motion to cut that budget in half,” said Coun. Pettigrew, with the vote finishing 5-2.
Mayor DiManno said the $40,000 will be enough for rebates for anywhere from 40 to 80 e-bikes.
“I think this is going to be wildly popular, so I want to give the leeway of the up to $40,000,” she said.
Within Canada, e-bike rebate programs are being offered under different models across various provinces and cities.
The City of Edmonton launched a 30 per cent rebate of up to $750 in 2020, which was fully subscribed under the $50,000 allocation. The Yukon is offering a 25 per cent rebate of up to $750 for a standard e-bike and $1,500 for a cargo bike. Nova Scotia introduced a $500 rebate program at the point of purchase for e-bikes where the total purchase price was above $1,200.
British Columbia’s Scrap It vehicle program gives individuals $1,050 towards an e-bike purchase when scrapping an old vehicle, and B.C.’s pilot cargo bike program provides a 33 per cent rebate up to $1,700 to participating businesses.