In recent years, a quiet revolution has been taking place on the streets of cities worldwide. E-Bikes have been rapidly gaining popularity as a clean, efficient, and practical mode of transportation. As the province of British Columbia seeks sustainable solutions to address its transportation, climate, and equity challenges, its investment in e-mobility is finally coming online. With a relatively mild climate, there isn't a better place in Canada to start moving people out of their cars and onto bikes.
The province is following the Community Council’s E-bike Equity Model that was developed and piloted with the District of Saanich. This model includes a higher subsidy for lower income households. The pilot was part of the Community Council’s Climate Equity Program. The pilot has been hugely successful with the low-income targeted subsidy oversubscribed even before the higher income brackets. There was also unanimous approval to renew funding by the City Council where other jurisdictions have cancelled e-bike programs that were seen as inequitable. Transportation is the second highest cost driver for low-income households after housing meaning that and E-bike can be a game changer, not just for the climate and health but for poverty and low income.
Shifting how people move through cities by enabling micro-mobility has yielded positive environmental and health results. We can significantly reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, and noise pollution within our cities by adopting alternative modes of transportation like E-bikes and incorporating them into our transportation continuum.
As we see ourselves staring at a worsening healthcare crisis, promoting active transportation will be vital for improving public health. Although traditional bikes are a fantastic way of commuting actively, eBikes offer a unique solution as they enable individuals of varying fitness levels and abilities to enjoy cycling effortlessly. Encouraging cycling helps to promote physical activity, reduce sedentary lifestyles, and combat the growing concerns of obesity and other health issues associated with inactive lifestyles. Allowing both the province and the public to witness the significant health benefits that come with the adoption of eBikes as a fun and convenient means of transportation while fostering a strong cycling culture amongst younger riders and new immigrants.
E-bikes also open up more commute and trip options for longer distances or carrying loads. Preliminary studies have found that individuals use e-bikes for longer trips than conventional bicycles, with an average distance per trip of 6.1km. That distance is longer than the average bike trip distance and car trip length within the largest municipality in the CRD.
For those battling the Colwood crawl and bumper-to-bumper traffic along Douglas, it isn't surprising that British Columbia's urban centers face significant traffic congestion. This congestion has led to frustrating commutes and wasted hours on the road for all users. An investment into active transportation by the province sets the stage for encouraging more people to leave their cars behind, reducing the overall number of vehicles on the roads. This reduction in traffic congestion has the potential to improve traffic flow, and reduce both noise and physical pollution within our cities- both of which will be necessary if we are looking to equitably densify our arterials and bolster sustainable developments centred around transitways.
The E-bike Equity Model the province is following can relieve many financial burdens associated with car ownership, serving as a cost-effective alternative to the current status quo. Car ownership is often accompanied by substantial expenses, including fuel costs, maintenance, insurance, and parking fees. eBikes offer a cost-effective alternative- significantly reducing transportation expenses for individuals and families who don't necessarily want or need a car. As we look to improve affordability while enhancing the quality of life for British Columbians, getting more people moving more sustainably is an achievable goal. It is possible to dovetail social and climate equity. With no need for gasoline and significantly lower maintenance costs compared to automobiles, eBikes can help save money and increase disposable income. Furthermore, public investment in eBike infrastructure, such as more secure bike parking, better wayfinding, and trail widening projects, also benefits traditional acoustic riders.
The E-bike explosion not only benefits their acoustic cousins but also has the potential to take their other e-mobility devices along for the ride too. With the emergence of electrified scooters, skateboards, and even unicycles, we must provide adequate infrastructure for all forms of e-mobility. This includes an often-overlooked form- the mobility scooter. Mobility scooters and other forms of micro-mobility for people with disabilities should need accommodation by right of way on multi-use and AAA paths. We can rethink the car as a default mobility device for many people by bringing them in for the active transportation revolution.
If the province wants to add a more detailed equity lens to their rebates focused on e-mobility, it would be essential to address the gap for those who cannot ride traditional e-bikes. Pairing vital incentive programs alongside expanding active transportation infrastructure can lead to healthier, happier, and better-connected communities. We must plan for a future with fewer vehicles, less traffic, and more public and active transportation users. Unfortunately, the provincial VKT targets have been forgotten by many municipalities. The province's interest in meeting climate goals through VKT reductions opens the door to imagining a cleaner, more sustainable future for our transportation networks- but attracting and maintaining the ridership will require a coordinated approach from multiple levels of government.
The province's investment in eBikes presents many potential benefits, such as reducing environmental impacts through transportation, improving public health, alleviating traffic congestion, and boosting economic opportunities. E-bikes offer a compelling solution supporting us towards a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant future. Let's help preserve the beauty of this place by embracing the electric revolution. We can pave the way for a greener British Columbia- albeit using less asphalt than we've used in the past.
This is the second blog in a series on transportation equity in the region.
Published May 31, 2023
Khadoni Pitt Chambers, Research Coordinator
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