Atlanta eyes subsidizing e-bikes as popularity surges

Battery-assisted bicycles can help riders navigate hills and make cycling more enjoyable as an alternative to cars
Jeff Beach takes his new electric bike from Edison Electric Bike Co. for a test ride on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Jeff Beach takes his new electric bike from Edison Electric Bike Co. for a test ride on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

One of the first things Jeff Beach did when his wife surprised him with an electric bicycle for Christmas was text his neighbor and buddy, Mike, whose own e-bike adventures helped inspire the purchase.

“‘Hey man, can I be in the gang?’” Beach joked, referring to the small group of local dads who have adopted e-bikes in recent years for running errands, commuting to work and carting around their kids.

E-bikes have surged in popularity among those who see them as a practical form of transportation and a way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by reducing car travel.

Now, Atlanta City Council is weighing a proposal to follow in the footsteps of places like Denver, Boston and Rhode Island by offering city residents rebates for e-bikes, which can run anywhere between $600 and $6,000.

E-bikes can be used like a regular bike, or riders can engage a motor to boost their own pedaling or propel them on battery-power alone. Georgia law treats e-bikes as regular bicycles that do not require licensing or registration as long as the motor is less than 750 watts and the speed tops out at 20 miles per hour.

Enthusiasts say the extra motor power makes biking more accessible to a wider range of people, helps cyclists navigate hills and longer distances and cuts down on sweat.

Councilman Matt Westmoreland, who sponsored legislation to create an e-bike subsidy study committee, hopes to enact a program by Earth Day on April 22. Although the details have yet to be hammered out, he envisions about a $1 million program to start, possibly with federal money, with larger rebates for income-qualifying residents.

Emily Beach (left) and her husband Jeff (right) chat with Edison Electric Bike Co. shop manager Tyler Riberdy (center) on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

“I certainly put myself in the category of people who share the desire of getting people out of their cars as much as possible,” Westmoreland said.

He acknowledged, however, that Atlanta is lagging behind its own commitments when it comes to street upgrades that would make cycling safer and more appealing.

In 2015 and 2016, voters approved a more than $500 million infrastructure package that included miles of bike lanes, including protected lanes for bicycles and pedestrians on some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. In 2019, city leaders acknowledged that the program was well over budget and behind schedule.

Some of those projects were scaled back, and most have yet to come to fruition.

Atlanta also has grappled with the fallout of a federal probe of city contracting that resulted in guilty pleas or indictments of a handful of construction contractors as well as some city officials from the administration of former Mayor Kasim Reed.

Since then, the city has undergone leadership changes, introduced legislation intended to tighten project oversight and created its first Department of Transportation, consolidating some responsibilities that had previously been split among different sections.

This past spring, voters approved an additional $750 million infrastructure package, including protected bike lanes.

Michael Smith, a spokesman for Mayor Andre Dickens, wrote in an email that the administration “enthusiastically supports efforts to build a more multi-modal community,” adding that the city is investing heavily in pedestrian and bike infrastructure.

“The Administration supports the legislation to study e-bike incentives and will continue to work with Council to ensure that Atlanta continues to be a city built for the future,” Smith said.

Rebecca Serna, executive director of Propel ATL, which advocates for bike, pedestrian and transit infrastructure, said having infrastructure designed for safe cycling is a huge factor in people’s willingness to ride.

Serna said the city appears to be putting in place processes to speed up bike-friendly projects.

“It’s just such a big backlog that we’re dealing with,” she said. “I think they’re doing some good work, but they need to be better resourced in order to deliver the hundreds of projects that have been promised and funded.”

Views of the inside Edison Electric Bike Co. shop in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

As for Beach, he can’t wait to take his e-bike on the recently-expanded Greenway in Sugar Hill, where he lives, to his job as operations director at Gwinnett Church, cutting his commute from about four miles to one.

Although he wouldn’t be eligible for Atlanta’s rebate program since he lives outside the city, Beach said he was supportive of any efforts to support e-bikes and cycling infrastructure in the metro area.

“I think if that goes into place, you’ll see a surge in these e-bikes all around the city,” Beach said. “I would have probably bought one way sooner if I knew there was some sort of subsidy.”

Sales figures for e-bikes are hard to pin down, but the Light Electric Vehicle Association estimates the U.S. imported about 790,000 in 2021 — up from 463,000 in 2020, Bloomberg reported.

That figure wouldn’t include the growing number of domestic manufacturers, including Atlanta-based Edison Electric Bike Company, founded by Ryan Hersh in 2016. Since then, Hersh said he’s sold about 3,600 e-bikes and plans to open a second permanent location on the Westside in addition to his original shop in Kirkwood.

“Eight-to-nine times out of 10, folks are buying these to commute,” Hersh said. “These are not, like, a recreational novelty — we are a transportation company.”


A note of disclosure

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