Two new municipal initiatives are aimed at boosting electric bike ownership in Nelson.
On June 24, the city will hold the E-bike Expo at the Nelson Innovation Centre in Railtown next to the Visitor’s Centre. There will be a variety of bikes on display, and participants can hear about the experiences of owners and learn about the city’s e-bike program.
“We’ve heard many residents say they want to purchase an e-bike but aren’t sure where to start,” the city’s climate and energy advisor Cecilia Jaques told council at its May 24 meeting. “Our goal is to bring people together to learn from each other and make it easier for people to start cycling.”
In the summer of 2020 the city began offering low-interest financing to homeowners to purchase an electric bike. The loan payments are applied monthly to the homeowner’s Nelson Hydro bill.
The maximum loan amount is $8,000 per household, which can support the purchase of more than one bike.
Jaques said the program has $120,000 worth of participants so far, with a total loan value of $300,000, half of which was spent at local bike dealers.
Encouraging e-bike use is a significant part of the city’s climate strategy.
“By increasing the use of bikes in Nelson,” said Mayor John Dooley when the program was introduced in 2020, “we can reduce carbon emissions and pollution in our community. There is also increased benefits to having fewer vehicles on the road and more parking capacity downtown for visitors and retail customers.”
The E-bike Expo is free and is open from 3 to 7 p.m.
UBC pilot project
How effective is e-bike promotion as a climate action strategy?
To find out, Nelson has signed on to a study headed by Alex Bigazzi of UBC’s REACT (Research on Active Transportation) lab. The District of Saanich and the Capital (Victoria) Regional District are also involved in the study.
Bigazzi told Nelson council that e-bikes have four advantages: they are low-carbon, they provide exercise, they are relatively inexpensive compared to cars, and they have a low-traffic impact.
“All of those benefits are contingent on e-bikes diverting motor vehicle trips,” he said. “So what we really need to know is how e-bike adoption is affecting other types of travel that they would have engaged in if they had not bought an e-bike.”
Participants in the study will monitor and document how their bike displaces a type of travel they would have otherwise taken. From this, the researchers will calculate a net greenhouse gas impact. That number will in turn will be compared with the original cost of participating in the e-bike financing program. This will generate a cost effectiveness number, which will express the amount of carbon reduction per dollar cost of the program.
Bigazzi said REACT has a “very state of the art study design” based on best practices from around the world. The study will survey the short-term impacts (at the time of bike purchase), a middle-term impact (three months later) and long-term impacts (12 months later). This three-part project will take a year, with analysis and conclusions published in the fall of 2023.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg said there are many people buying e-bikes but financing it themselves. Bigazzi responded that the study will have a control group consisting of that category of e-bike owner.
Logtenberg added that the e-bike program could be the entry-point into further decarbonization such as participating in the city’s home energy retrofit program, which also operates through homeowners’ hydro bills.
“This could be first step in a journey toward decarbonizing my life,” he said, referring to the process as a “lifestyle retrofit.”
Councillor Keith Page said giving the low-interest loan to homeowners discriminates against renters.
City manager Kevin Cormack said the program does not have to be restricted to homeowners and that large companies might take on such an employee loan program.
Page said there should be a safety program run in conjunction with the Nelson Police Department and wondered if the loan program requires safety features like front and back lights. He said greater uptake of e-bikes will create a greater need to learn bike safety and to help everyone learn to share the road.