June 2023 Legislative Update: Supporting Community Access to E-Bikes

On Wednesday, June 14th, MassBike Executive Director, Galen Mook, testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy in support of bill H.3145, "An Act expanding community access to electric bicycles." This bill would help increase access to electric bicycles in Massachusetts through grant-supported community programs (like MassBike’s Worcester E-Bike Program) and by providing financial assistance to electric bike share systems.

On behalf of MassBike, Mook delivered an enthusiastic testimony advocating for the expansion of electric bicycles. He expressed gratitude to Representative Blais for her dedicated efforts to promote sustainable and equitable active transportation throughout Massachusetts. Mook highlighted the legislature's significant achievements in defining electric bicycles in Chapter 90 and passing vulnerable road user language, contributing to Massachusetts' recognition as the #1 Bicycle Friendly State in the country by the League of American Bicyclists.

While acknowledging these accomplishments, Mook emphasized that there is still much work to be done to encourage more individuals to ride bicycles more frequently. In H.3145, MassBike sees an opportunity to address two critical challenges facing the state: congested roadways and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. By expanding existing programs, Massachusetts can harness the potential of electric bicycles to combat these issues.

Over the past year, MassBike collaborated with the Clean Energy Center, an economic development agency focused on advancing the clean energy sector across the Commonwealth. As part of the CEC's Accelerating Clean Transportation for All pilot program, MassBike was one of five grantees selected to provide e-bikes to low and moderate-income residents statewide. In Worcester alone, MassBike distributed approximately 100 electric bicycles to individuals who rely on them for daily transportation needs. Through these initiatives, participants have collectively displaced over 14,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, a significant contribution to a cleaner environment.

\A rider using the now-closed ValleyBike system in 2021

Mook further emphasized the potential of electric bicycle share programs, citing success stories from comparable initiatives worldwide. In New York's Citi Bike and Paris' Vélib, electric bicycles accounted for nearly two-thirds of all trips, despite representing only a fraction of the overall fleet. In contrast, the inclusion of electric bicycles in Boston's regional Bluebike system has faced challenges due to cost implications for municipalities and riders. Mook highlighted the unfortunate closure of Massachusetts' first regional electric bicycle share system, ValleyBike, due to financial constraints. Bill H.3145 offers an opportunity to support such public transportation systems and enable their expansion.

Apart from addressing congestion and emissions, Mook underscored the numerous benefits of bicycling, including improved health, enhanced mental wellness, stronger community connections, and cost savings. Electric bicycles, in particular, break down barriers for individuals with mobility challenges and those who may feel less confident riding at higher speeds or longer distances. However, the high cost of electric bicycles remains a significant obstacle for many residents, especially those with low or moderate incomes. The overwhelming response to MassBike's e-bike grant program in Worcester, with over 1200 applications for just 100 bicycles, underscores the demand for affordable electric bicycles across the state.

Drawing inspiration from similar legislation in Colorado, where statewide access to e-bikes has flourished, Mook encouraged Massachusetts to follow suit. He highlighted the success of Denver's e-bike program, which has expanded to reach over 5,000 riders statewide. Notably, 96% of surveyed riders in Colorado indicated that cost reductions were crucial in their decision to purchase e-bikes. MassBike firmly believes that a similar grant program implemented in every gateway city, suburb, and rural community throughout Massachusetts would be equally successful.

With electric bicycles offering a sustainable solution to congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, Mook emphasized the need for increased support and accessibility. You can read the full written testimony here: 2023.06.14 Testimony for H.3145 An Act expanding community access to electric bicycles

This new bill is just one piece to the ongoing puzzle of expanding access to electric bicycles across the Commonwealth. MassBike continues to push for the implementation of individual e-bike rebates in Massachusetts. While e-bike rebates were included in the last year’s Transportation Bond Bill, which allowed the Commonwealth to spend $1M for the DOER to conduct their evaluation & begin the rebates, no money for e-bike rebates was programmed into this year’s budget – to either create or fund a program. We’re currently hearing from the Healey Administration, that they’re looking to implement e-bike rebates in 2024. To learn more about the Massachusetts e-bike rebate program and its latest updates, visit our recent blog: Massachusetts E-Bike Rebate Update - May 2023.

To stay up to speed on our continued legislative advocacy concerning e-bikes, make sure you’re on our email list! By signing up for MassBike's mailing list, individuals can stay updated on the progress of this initiative and other cycling-related developments across the state.