Nelson city council wants to see more electric bikes on the streets because they will relieve vehicle congestion, free up parking spaces, and reduce greenhouse gas production.
So council is instituting a pilot project with its 171 employees: the city will buy staff members an electric bike from a local supplier, to be paid off through payroll deductions.
Electric bikes cost several thousand dollars.
“For a lot of people that is like buying a used car, so we are going to run it and see what kind of uptake there is,” said councillor Jesse Woodward. “Electric bikes are excellent for the city because it is so hilly and they are already very popular here.”
Project is part of parking strategy
Woodward said the city is developing a parking strategy based on its recent survey completed by 900 residents, and this pilot project is a preliminary step in that strategy.
“The idea is to run this pilot and see how it goes, and if it expands well and there is good uptake we would try to bring it to the wider public,” Woodward said.
He said that what constitutes good uptake has not been decided, nor has a time limit for the pilot.
Expansion following the pilot could involve something like Nelson Hydro’s EcoSave program, in which residents pay for home energy upgrades (and perhaps in the future their bike purchase) through their hydro bill. But Woodward stressed this is a new idea with no details and nothing decided.
As for parking during the pilot project, Woodward said there is space at city hall and at the public works yard for employees to leave their bikes.
Local electric bike sales on an ‘upward curve’
Local sales of electric bikes has spiked in the last few years, according to Mark Holt, owner of Sacred Ride in Nelson, which sells them.
“It’s on a huge upward curve,” Holt says. “That is what people are looking for. I run into people on the street and they say, ‘You guys have any electric bikes?’”
He said commuting on an electric bike makes sense in a steep town like Nelson where “the valley bottom is a lake, there is no flat, there is no bench.
“We are still tapping into that and people are starting to figure it out. It’s at the forefront of what is happening in the bike world. There seems to be quite the buzz about it.”
Holt said there is also a developing market for electric bikes for use on mountain trails.
Worldwide market taking off
The publication Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports states that in 2016 there were 200 million electric bikes worldwide, 120 million of them in China.
Forbes reports that sales of electric bikes have overtaken sales of regular bikes in the Netherlands, where the market grew by nine per cent last year, and that in 2017 the electric bike market in the U.S. increased 25 per cent over the previous year.
The CBC has reported General Motors plans to start manufacturing electric bikes and Tesla founder Elon Musk has expressed interest.
Nelson wants to be first
“You are going to see a lot of downtown cores heading in this direction,” Woodward says. “Nelson is primed because of the geography. If we do this we will be one of the first, if not the first.”
Victoria mayor Lisa Helps recently learned of Nelson’s initiative and has sent it to her staff to consider, according to media reports.