Cyclist Zoltan Szoges with his new electric-assist front-wagon cargo bike with five-year-old neighbours Milo Velazquez (green helmet) and Harrison Wideski. Szoges paid more than $10,000 for the bike and does not use a car to commute. (Elise Cote photo)

Cyclist Zoltan Szoges with his new electric-assist front-wagon cargo bike with five-year-old neighbours Milo Velazquez (green helmet) and Harrison Wideski. Szoges paid more than $10,000 for the bike and does not use a car to commute. (Elise Cote photo)

Electric cargo bikes booming despite lack of incentives

Cargo bikes should get same incentives as electric cars, advocates say

Sales of electric bikes and electric cargo bikes are on the rise, but for some, the price point and availability are a talking point.

The advent of the e-assist bicycle has not only transformed the business of running a bike store, it has also changed our roadways by easing traffic, and has the potential to help Greater Victoria meet its reduced emission goals in the face of a climate crisis.

But at a minimum of $3,000 to get a new electric-assist cargo bike, not everyone who wants one can get one. And that has critics calling out the plentiful rebates and incentives available to drivers buying a new or used electric vehicle.

READ MORE: Looking at buying an electric car? Federal rebates kick in May 1

Since 2015 the B.C. Cycling Coalition has asked for PST to be waived on electric assist bikes (PST is not applied to regular bikes). It’s supported by the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.

But instead of stopping there, advocates would like to see incentives for e-bikes and regular bikes that are similar to what drivers can get.

Buyers of a new electric vehicle under $45,000 qualify for a federal grant up to $5,000 and a provincial grant up to $3,000.

Oak Bay Bikes proprietor Karl Ullrich said they sell about 50 e-bikes a month, which puts them on pace for 600 this year.

Rarely, if ever, does he hear that the customer is going to use the Scrap-It rebate, he said.

“It’s a big ask to commit to scrapping a car and getting an e-bike without having the bike first to insure it satisfies the need,” Ullrich said.

B.C.’s Scrap-It program is a good start and has had lots of success. It offers an $850 rebate towards an e-bike if you scrap a car. But the Scrap-It program itself is not enough, as the options to qualify make it too constraining, Corey Burger of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.

For one thing, only an electric cargo bike can replace the utility of a car. Some families prefer to keep a car in the driveway for weekend trips and other necessities but are able to bike or use public transit for their weekly commutes. (Forty per cent of green house gas emissions in Victoria are from individual commuter traffic, as reported in the City of Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan.)

READ ALSO: Report says only 40 per cent of B.C. car dealerships have electric vehicles available

There’s also the absurdity that you have to own a jalopy-condition beater worth $850, or less, and that you’re willing to part with it. In Oak Bay, for one, that’s a rarity.

While the EV incentives are successful in reducing the number of combustible engines on the roads, critics say they don’t go far enough and prioritize driving over cycling. To start with, the buyer has to be in a positive financial position to pay for the balance of the car, which is generally a monthly payment.

“Eliminating PST would have made so much more sense,” Ullrich said. “Collecting PST and then rebating funds is inefficient.”

It’s another of the barriers that’s keeping what GVCC and others believe is a latent demand from B.C. residents to use an electric assist bike in place of a car, and that the demand is far greater than what many realize.

READ ALSO: B.C.’s 2018 electric vehicle subisdy fund drained faster than expected

“One of the major barriers to people switching from driving to biking is if they have things to carry, such as kids,” said Burger said. “There needs to be more incentives. You shouldn’t need to scrap a car. [Incentives] should be at least as good the electric vehicle incentives.”

Last week Zoltan Szoges of Saanich received his new electric assist cargo bike. It cost him $14,500 after taxes. He qualified for no rebates or incentives.

Szoges is an example of a citizen taking action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. By his own account he’s a working-class citizen who made the bike purchase happen through hard work. Moving forward, Szoges doesn’t have to worry about high maintenance costs, gas or insurance (although he is deathly afraid of the rampant bike theft in Victoria and B.C.).

He’s also extremely empathetic for his fellow citizens out there who are unable to shift from being a driver to using a bike or alternative mode of travel.

“I used to tour with my band in a van, and I had a Vespa scooter, but I haven’t lived the traditional city life with a standard schedule until now,” Szoges said.

“Society is designed in favour of cars but I’m not a person to hate on cars. I understand that’s the culture we exist in.”

Szoges has already put 2,300km on his road bike this year and expects to travel 7,000 kilometres on his new cargo bike over the next 12 months.

At the end of the day, Szoges would love a rebate to help pay for his electric cargo bike.

“I have to say, I understand it’s hard for a family that drives to jump into an e-bike and give up the car. I understand that families want to go up-Island on the weekend.”

On the flip side, now that Szoges’ neighbour Elise Cote has returned to work after a parental leave for her second child, she’s reverted from being a cycling commuter and bought an old car to manage the morning rat race.

“I had to get a car, and a driver’s licence, and I am not happy about it,” Cote said. “I am concerned about climate change, in that acute way that parents are afraid of climate change for their kids.”

Cote is happy about one thing though.

“I was excited when I saw the Scrap-It program for e-bikes, mostly, because that’s more than my car is worth,” she says with a laugh.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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