Did you know there is a state program in RI to rebate people who purchase e-bikes?
“We are definitely hearing from more people who have questions about the rebates,” says Tyler Justin of Mission Electric Bikes on the east side of PVD, one of the earliest pioneers in bringing e-bikes to Rhode Island several years ago. “It’s also how we got a lot of our customers early on. They talk to each other. We started telling customers about the rebate, and they told their friends.”
The program for e-bikes is open only to individual RI residents over the age of 18. It provides up to $350 on a purchase, or up to $750 if you qualify for other need-based state programs. The bike must be purchased at an RI-based store, but the RI locations of chain stores like Walmart and Target are still eligible.
Justin cautions against the lowest priced micromobility vehicles that can be found at some of the big discount stores, stating: “The very low-priced e-bikes aren’t subject to the same import and inspection standards. You want a product with a certified battery,” to help avoid e-bike fires. New York recently passed new safety requirements for micromobility devices in the wake of a number of fires started by overheating lithium/ion batteries, according to NPR News.
State statistics indicate that most of the rebate use is coming from Providence and Cranston (RI Office of Energy Resources, DRIVE EV Rebate Statistics, drive.ri.gov/program-statistics), cities concentrated enough to make bike travel practical, even while one might debate how bike-friendly their traffic control efforts and bike paths might be (sidebar).
Rhode Island’s program is named after Erika Niedowski, a well-known local and national journalist, an advocate in the renewable energy sector – and, of course, an avid biker. Niedowski worked for at-the-time lieutenant governor McKee, and was associated with many positive non-profits, including Girls Rock (now RIOT) and the Coalition for Community Solar Access. Sadly, she passed in 2020 from a sudden and unexpected illness.
A federal rebate of up to 30% of the cost of an e-bike (or up to $1,500) has been proposed, at first as part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, and then independently, but it’s not yet clear whether that will come to fruition. In the meantime, Massachusetts residents can benefit from a similar program, and RI intends to renew the program (although at the moment the offer’s only good while funds last).
Beadle says, “We are encouraged by the popularity of the e-bike rebate program. When the initial funding round is exhausted, we plan to explore our options for continuing the program. However, we suggest that anyone who is interested in purchasing an e-bike to do so before the rebate funds run out.”
“Anything that gets more bikes out there is great,” says Justin, who says Mission is absolutely seeing people choosing e-bikes over cars or getting rid of their cars, which was less common in previous years. Part of the mission for Mission is to advocate for two-wheeled transportation and against fossil-fuel burning vehicles.
Justin is also seeing a change in the demographics of his customers – from their original base of wealthier, older bikers looking for something new, and toward students and younger professionals and families who use the bikes as a part of day-to-day travel, rather than for special expeditions. He’s encouraged by this trend for many reasons, and believes the rebates will pay off for the public good: “Reducing emissions is important, and of course it’s healthier. But also, what is it worth to have another parking spot be free, to reduce the wear and tear on roads and infrastructure over time, to reduce traffic jams?”
Justin feels the DOT and RI Commerce are taking these factors seriously, and that our state’s size presents unique opportunities to be nimble and responsive with less infrastructure – and a more bikeable scale than any other state. “I was early into this, so it’s so validating to see that it’s not a fad or a bubble – it’s part of our collective future.”
Wheels Turning in PVD
Providence has received national attention within the bicycling community for its efforts and former mayor Jorge Elorza’s intention to make PVD a bike-friendly city (MomentumMag, PeopleForBikes). “I’ve seen quite a few transplants looking for the Bikeutopia we’ve been touting, moving here because Providence is making moves,” says Justin. Admitting that not all of Elorza’s developments worked out, he admired the effort by an administration that was willing to take chances. “Real leaders know that to create change, you have to take risks.”
The overall plan for bikes in the city was being implemented piecemeal, creating bike-safe passage in some areas that then dumped bicyclists into territory that was not bike-friendly, before they could transition to bikeable areas again. Questions concerning obstruction, and of what inconveniences are created for businesses, shoppers and drivers arise when accommodations are made for bicyclists. The overall plan isn’t close to full realization, and has been the subject of considerable debate for years.
It’s not clear yet what the new administration has planned for the partially executed bike endeavors. It seems likely to be a different path – where Elorza was a bicyclist, current mayor Brett Smiley is a runner. When asked about the future of bicycles in PVD, city press secretary Josh Estrella told Motif, “Providing our residents high quality infrastructure for all modes of transportation is a top priority for Mayor Smiley. The Administration is conducting a review of the city’s previously envisioned plan to ensure each location is safe and meets the needs of our neighbors. We are open to the idea of relocation, realignment, or elimination to reach those goals, but that decision will ultimately be driven by the needs of the community.” No timetable or review process has been specified as of yet.