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Blue planet, green ideas | Should the purchase of electric bicycles be subsidized?

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The electric bike is a tool in the fight against climate change, believe a growing number of governments that subsidize the purchase by individuals. Pressed to imitate them by Vélo Québec, the Quebec government says it has no intention of doing so.

The popularity of the electric bike is unquestionable. A quarter of adult bicycles sold in 2020 in Quebec were electrically assisted. They are particularly appreciated by cyclists who cover long distances or large gradients. But they often cost more than traditional bikes.

In Quebec, the government grants juicy subsidies – up to $8,000 – to buyers of electric cars. But no government assistance exists for the electric bike, deplores Vélo Québec.

“For a fraction of the cost, we can have even more low-carbon modes of transport than the car. People who have chosen where they live to be less dependent on the car, they are told: “Make your own way, we don’t need to support you,” laments Magali Bebronne, program director at Vélo Québec.


PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, ARCHIVES LA PRESSE

Magali Bebronne, program director at Vélo Québec

“From our point of view, if we are able to offer such gifts to those who switch to electric cars, we should be able to support those who make even more virtuous choices,” she says.

Up to $2000 in France

Many governments have implemented such programs. In Scotland, the government offers interest-free loans repayable over four years for the purchase of electric bikes or cargo bikes.

France has several programs. One of them provides for the state to absorb 40% of the price of the electric bicycle, up to a maximum of $2,100, if the buyer simultaneously gets rid of an old motor vehicle.

Many clues show us that with electric bikes, it is former motorists who use them, more than bikes without electric assistance.

Olivier Schneider, President of the French Federation of Bicycle Users (FUB)

The sinews of war is of course the famous modal transfer. These subsidies are primarily intended to ensure that people give up the gas-powered car.

The idea behind the electric car subsidy is simple: governments estimate that one kilometer traveled by electric car will replace one kilometer traveled by gasoline-powered car.

The calculation is less simple with the bicycle. Will the kilometers traveled by bicycle replace polluting kilometers behind the wheel? Or would these subsidies go to wealthy people who buy an electric bike, but don’t reduce the use of their automobile?


PHOTO OLIVIER PONTBRIAND, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Laval subsidized 4,500 electric bikes between 2018 and 2022.

The French conversion bonus is interesting, because it makes it possible to ensure that the subsidy will be used by a cyclist who abandons the car to send it “for scrapping”.

“The electric bike is a modal transfer tool, it’s indisputable”, believes Olivier Schneider.

Not in the boxes in Quebec

The Quebec government is betting heavily on the electrification of transportation. But subsidizing the electric bike is not part of its arsenal.

“We are always on the lookout for effective measures to achieve our energy transition objectives. For the moment, we are not planning to set up a subsidy for the purchase of electric bicycles, ”says Geneviève Tremblay, press secretary to the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien.

However, some municipalities have implemented programs without waiting for Quebec. Granby, for example, has its own subsidy program, which provides $50 to $100 for the purchase of a traditional or electric bicycle.

Laval subsidized 4,500 electric bicycles between 2018 and 2022. The funds came in part from real estate developers who contributed according to the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by their projects. But the Laval program has not been renewed, and the 750 grants planned for 2022 have already been granted, proof of the program’s popularity with the public.

Vélo Québec hopes that a real reflection will take place in Quebec on the place of the bicycle in the strategy of electrification of transport. Unsurprisingly, the organization believes that betting everything on the car, once again, is a mistake.

“What is unfortunate is that the government’s vision is that electrification will save us,” says Magali Bebronne. But electrification only meets some of our challenges, the electric car will take up the same space in traffic jams, it will continue to pose a threat to the most vulnerable users of the road. »

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