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UPDATE: Town of Banff considering e-bike rebate program in budget talks

“First, we know Banffites love to go by bike. Secondly, it would be a great use of the environmental reserve because it supports residents lowering their daily carbon footprint,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno.

BANFF – A new rebate program for e-bikes may be rolled out as a pilot program in town.

The Town of Banff’s governance and finance committee has tentatively approved a $42,0000 program – up to $40,000 for rebates and $2,000 for marketing and communications – as part of the annual review of municipal services.

Councillors won’t make a final decision until later on in budget deliberations, but if passed it would be funded from the non-tax supported environmental reserve, which is funded by Fortis franchise fees to the tune of about $255,000 a year and currently has a balance of just over $1 million.

Mayor Corrie DiManno likes the concept of the e-bike rebate program for many reasons.

“I think this is going to be wildly popular,” she said during a more than hour long discussion on Wednesday morning (Dec. 1).

“First, we know Banffites love to go by bike. Secondly, it would be a great use of the environmental reserve because it supports residents lowering their daily carbon footprint,” she added.

“We have examples from the U.S. and Europe of how e-bike rebates help change travel behaviours, while contributing to people’s overall health and well-being. Getting more bikes on the road is better for the environment and for the Banffites using them.”

There are many different types of e-bikes, with some only having a small motor to assist a rider to pedal. E-bikes use rechargeable batteries and can travel up to 25-32 km/h.

The average price for an electric bicycle in North America is $3,500.

Administration recommended a 30 per cent rebate on the total purchase up to $750 per residential household, and a 20 per cent rebate capped at $750 for businesses, with a maximum of two e-bikes per business.

In addition, there would be sliding scale for residents who are part of the low-income Banff Access program who will be eligible for a bigger rebate – 50 per cent of the total purchase price up to $1,000 for tier 1 and 40 per cent of the purchase cost to a maximum of $900 for tier 2.

If fully subscribed, and depending on the total cost of bikes purchased, $40,000 could potentially support  the purchase of more than 50 e-bikes per year.

“The reason the rebate is so high is because e-bikes are quite expensive,” said Michael Hay, the Town of Banff’s manager of environment and sustainability.

The recent boom of electric bicycles has led researchers to study e-bike purchase incentive programs, hoping they can be an effective tool to reduce regular vehicle use.

Hay said research shows that e-bike owners do travel further and use their bikes more often than traditional bikes.

He said e-bikes also greatly enhance opportunities for those who live in hilly areas, and particularly for seniors or people with disabilities who otherwise find cycling difficult or impossible.

“This is really about expanding the demographics of the cycling community,” said Hay.

“Of course, the primary goal here is actually to get people out of their car and onto their bikes. This helps to reduce congestion and obviously has a greenhouse gas emissions benefit as well.”

Councillor Hugh Pettigrew wants to see the rebate expanded to include regular bicycles.

“Not everyone wants an electric bike,” said Coun. Pettigrew who will work with administration to bring his idea forward later in service review for further deliberations.

“I think we’re leaving a large portion of the population out of this program and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Administration will also look at how the rebate program will be administered if passed by council.

Coun. Pettigrew wants consideration of a lottery instead of a first-come-first serve process, while Coun. Kaylee Ram is interested in giving first priority to Banff Access cardholders.

Within Canada, e-bike rebate programs are being offered under different models across various provinces and cities.

The City of Edmonton launched a 30 per cent rebate of up to $750 in 2020, which was fully subscribed under the $50,000 allocation.

An administration report pointed to one study in the United States that found 62 per cent of e-bike trips replaced trips that otherwise would have been taken by car. Of those trips, 45.8 per cent were commute trips to work or school.

The report stated another e-bike lending study found that compared to before the trial, the amount of people commuting to work by bicycle in the study group doubled from 28 per cent to 59 per cent.

The Town of Banff is no stranger to environmental rebate programs, including a studded tire rebate program and a walking aid rebate program.

“The e-bike rebate program builds on the success of those two programs, which were very popular,” said Hay.

If approved by council, the pilot rebate program would likely run from March 1 to Dec. 31, 2022.

The Town of Banff currently operates seven electric bicycles for work use – two at Town Hall and five for the operations compound.