Equity impacts of income-dependent e-bike purchase incentives

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are a rapidly growing mode of transportation with the potential to displace driving and so reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation. The potential emissions benefits have led to the advancement of e-bike promotion programs and policies as a climate action strategy by Canadian governments. E-bike promotion can also have a range of other benefits related to physical activity, traffic congestion, travel costs, and more. Some climate-oriented e-bike incentive programs incorporate an equity dimension to program design – such as income-dependent purchase rebates. In addition to consideration of the distribution of program benefits, income-conditional incentives can improve program effectiveness because lower-income households are expected to be more price-sensitive.

To date, we have little empirical evidence of the real-world impacts of e-bike incentive programs. Some studies are starting to emerge from incentive programs in northern Europe and the USA, focussed on quantifying the program’s external benefits. Less attention has been given to the internal costs and benefits for e-bike adopters (e.g., access, activity participation, travel costs), and how those impacts vary among individuals. We know that the effects of e-bike adoption on travel behaviour are highly heterogeneous and contextual. We do not yet know how income-dependent e-bike incentives intersect with existing transportation inequities, and hence how they may serve to enhance (or undercut) equity goals for transportation systems.

This project aims to develop new understanding of the equity impacts of income-dependent e-bike purchase incentives. Key questions this project aims to answer include:
1) How do income-dependent incentives change e-bike purchase decisions for different segments of the population?
2) Do lower-income e-bike purchasers experience unique benefits or obstacles from access to an e-bike (for example, related to infrastructure, housing type, activity patterns, schedule constraints, etc.)? What barriers exist to further utilization of purchased e-bikes and benefits from the incentive program, particularly for disadvantaged travellers?
3) Are there equity implications of income-dependent e-bike incentives beyond preferential benefits for lower-income travellers? For example, do the benefits intersect with other equity-deserving sub-sets of the population?

This research project is a collaboration between the React Lab and Megan Winters (Co-Investigator, Simon Fraser University), in partnership with the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which launched an income-qualified e-bike incentive program in 2023. The project is supported as a pilot evaluation study under Mobilizing Justice, a Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), with Principal Investigator Steven Farber (University of Toronto).