City of Portland’s First E-Bike Incentive Program
Emma Perry, City Sustainability Fellow, discusses the success of Portland's Electrify Everything! E-bike Incentive program in providing affordable electric bikes to eligible residents, reducing carbon emissions, supporting local businesses, and creating a more sustainable community.
When I started my fellowship at the City of Portland, the team was getting ready to roll out the City’s first E-Bike incentive program, part of a program called Electrify Everything!, which would allow income-eligible residents to obtain an incentive certificate to purchase an electric bicycle at a lower cost. After working with the bikes shops in Portland to make sure the program would work on their end and promoting the program as much as we could, our office announced the Electrify Everything! E-bike Incentive program on April 22nd and started accepting applications the following Monday. The program was able to provide 68 income-eligible Portland residents with a certificate to purchase an electric bicycle or electric cargo bicycle that can provide a reliable, practical mode of transportation that does not rely on fossil fuels. The program was designed to support goals identified in One Climate Future, the joint climate action plan between Portland and South Portland, to reduce vehicle miles traveled in automobiles and to reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
We knew that we wanted the program to reach a wide variety of people and cater to the people who would benefit most from an incentive and making a sustainable switch in their method of transportation. With that in mind we issued a press release, promoted the program on all of our social media pages, and capitalized on our Earth Day Event which we knew would attract lots of residents who might not know about our office and what we are doing. At the event, we had a table with information about the Electrify Everything! E-Bike program and we were joined by some of the bike shops that were participating in it. They brought different types of e-bikes and residents were allowed to test ride bikes and create connections with the shops. To try and get the word out even more, we also alerted several community services organizations, like Avesta Housing which supports low-income community members in accessing stable housing, who put up flyers in their apartment buildings.
Knowing that upfront costs pose a significant barrier to implementing energy-saving projects or fossil-fuel alternatives, the program was designed to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for eligible participants. The program was available to residents making under 80% of the local median income. We partnered with six local bike shops to provide a point-of-sale discount of 60% off the total price of the bike and any eligible safety accessories. For regular e-bikes the maximum incentive for the bike and any eligible accessories was $1,500. For an electric cargo bike and eligible accessories, the maximum incentive was $3,000. These incentives are unheard of compared to all the other municipal and state-wide programs and although we were not able to help as many people, we still made an incredible impact.
Monday, April 24th was the day we began accepting applications for incentives, it was a typical April day in Maine and yet we were greeted by a line of residents outside of City Hall at 7:30am. By Wednesday, the 26th we had reached our spending limit and announced the closure of the program. While the time was short, we met 76 residents who were so grateful and so truly excited about purchasing their new electric bikes. We knew that there would be some funding left over, so we established a waitlist of 13 individuals in the event that some incentive certificates expired or were not used in full.
On June 26th, 2023, all the unused certificates expired, and we were able to provide incentives to the 13 residents who were on the waitlist. While 89 residents received certificates, 68 of them purchased a bike. To date we have spent $95,000 and we anticipate $20,000 more will be spent on the e-bike incentives.
Since the program ended, we have received numerous emails and letters from residents who purchased e-bikes sharing stories of how they were able to opt out from getting a second vehicle or were able to swap their second vehicle for an e-bike. One family wrote us and spoke of how the program has made it easier to take their children to school and how their kids tell all of their friends how much they love their new e-bike. The program has worked exactly how it was imagined by making commuting easier and more fun while reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Not only have residents of Portland benefitted from the program, but local bike shops have as well. The program has supported six local bike shops in the Portland area who, following the Covid-19 pandemic, might have been experiencing less business or fewer people coming into their shops. The feedback we received from the bike shops has been extremely positive and is all that we could have hoped for when building relationships between municipal government and small businesses. All of the participating shops were required to sell and service fully built bicycles to ensure that all bikes sold as part of the program are safe and properly assembled. This requirement has created a relationship between the bike shops and the resident, and we are hoping that all of the new e-bike owners will go back to the bike shop they purchased from for maintenance and any other needs they may have involving their bikes.
Now, we are just waiting for the residents from the waitlist to purchase their bikes and we have created a survey that we will send out in the next month to all those who participated. The survey covers all aspects of the program, and we are hoping to learn more about the impact of the program and how to improve future iterations.
The program ran extremely smoothly, and we are still receiving calls every week from residents asking when the next round will begin. For now, there is no more funding available since the first round was made possible by pandemic-relief funds. However, we are hopeful that between the positive feedback we have received, and the increasing interest in electric bikes and sustainable transportation, that more funding will become available soon. For now, residents of Maine can keep an eye out for the electric bike incentives from the State and can continue supporting and advocating for mode shift and sustainable transportation swaps.
Emma grew up in Manchester, Vermont where she spent most of her time skiing, exploring in the woods, and playing soccer for her local high school. She recently graduated from the University of Vermont where she received a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies and Food Systems. After graduating Emma spent her summer working as a farm and food systems educator at an outdoor summer camp in Northern Vermont. Emma is interested in helping to foster a deeper connection between humans and the environment as well as educating people about the small but impactful changes they can make to make our city, and world, a more sustainable place. Emma moved to Maine to be closer to the ocean, and in her free time she loves to explore all that Maine has to offer with her dog Arlo. Whether it be hiking, cross-country skiing, or being on the water in the summer, you can find Emma at her happiest in the outdoors. As a Resilience Corps member, Emma looks forward to being a part of a team that’s helping turn Portland into a sustainable city for residents now and in the future.