Atlantans could soon be paid to ride electric bikes

A proposal in City Council aims to incentivize residents to cut back on driving.

Electric bicycles make up about half of the sales at Peachtree Bikes’ stores around the city. The bicycle shop with locations in Decatur and Buckhead has seen the mode of transportation spike in popularity.

“It went from zero to half of our business and probably just five years,” said Patrick Gregory, one of the store’s owners. “(E-bikes) are a really great transportation solution for a whole lot of different reasons.”

Atlanta residents could soon be paid to ride electric bikes around the city through a $1 million electric bike rebate.

A proposal making its way through City Council would establish a repayment program for travelers who opt out of driving on the city’s congested highways and switch to riding battery-assisted bikes.

Much like electric cars, e-bikes can come with a high price tag that is too costly for many — anywhere from $1,000 to $9,000, depending on the type. Models vary from recreation-friendly to cargo carriers.

Gregory said while e-bikes are popular with first-time riders, the high cost is a barrier.

“It is cost prohibitive for a large (number) of people,” he said, adding that cheaper bicycles manufactured outside of the United States often have safety flaws. “You don’t want somebody to be limited just because of that.”

City leaders hope that the financial incentive would make riding e-bikes more accessible and cut down on traffic and pollution.

The legislation sponsored by Council member Matt Westmoreland passed the transportation committee and will be up for consideration by the full council at its next meeting on Jan. 8.

“E-bikes are quickly proving to be a great way to reduce emissions by replacing car trips while still providing fast, efficient personal transportation,” Westmoreland said.

The rebate program — overseen by the Atlanta Regional Commission and PropelATL — would provide an up-front rebate for residents over 18 years old who purchase an e-bike from a local retailer. Low-income residents could also apply for additional financial assistance.

Any Atlanta resident would be eligible for a $500 to $1,000 rebate on e-bikes while low-income buyers could see anywhere from a $1,500 to $2,000 rebate. The amounts depend on the type of e-bike purchased.

Last January, City Council created a study group to review best practices and make recommendations for an e-bike rebate program in the city. Rebecca Serna, executive director of PropelATL, said the pedestrian safety group studied other cities that have similar programs, in Denver, Colorado and Raleigh, N.C.

“E-bikes are a big opportunity and potential solution for a lot of people, because they make biking more accessible and other places that have invested heavily in them have found big reductions in solo car trips,” she said.

With the transportation system in Atlanta under constant scrutiny — from the continued presence of potholes to frustrations over MARTA — pedestrian advocates hope the city integrates more safety elements into its transportation projects along with initiatives like the rebate program.

“It’s really important for the city to continue to invest in and build out their plans for e-bikes and individual transportation infrastructure,” Serna said. “So that people have safe places to bike and scoot and use other forms of small wheels.”