It’s Time To Subsidize E-bikes

We offer tax credits for electric cars — but ebikes are arguably even more transformative

Clive Thompson
5 min readJun 26


A young woman straddling an ebike, standing on the ground, and looking out over a body of water
Photo by KBO Bike on Unsplash

Last year, Denver rolled out a program to subsidize ebikes. If you bought one, the city would pay $300 towards the cost — and kick in another $200 if you bought a cargo bike. (Qualified low-income residents could get $1,200 towards an ebike.) Better yet, you’d be issued the rebate in the store, at the point of sale. No waiting around for a refund!

Why subsidize electric bicycles? Well, from Denver’s perspective, having more people riding ebikes would help the city in several ways. It’d reduce tailpipe emissions, which a majority of Denver residents say hurts their quality of life. Riders would get more exercise in a gentle fashion; many people avoid regular bikes because they don’t like hills or getting sweaty, reasonable objections that ebikes reduce. Ebikes would also reduce traffic and traffic-related noise. And — not least of all — any time someone rode an ebike instead of driving their car, it would reduce CO2 emissions.

Initially, Denver officials figured they’d get only modest demand for the ebike vouchers, so they issued 600.

Whoops: Denver residents snapped up those 600 vouchers in the first ten minutes. So the city freed up more money, and issued a total of 4,734. Of those, 2,330 went to low-income-qualified buyers.

Recently, Denver released a study on the impact of the ebike program, and it appears to have achieved most of the goals the city aimed at (some top-level findings listed here). The new owners rode their ebikes an average of 26 miles a week, 22 of which replaced miles they’d normally have driven in a car. Fully 71% said they were driving their gas-powered vehicles less often. Cars in Denver are now being driven 100,000 fewer miles every week than before.

All of which leads to my argument here:

We should start offering tons of subsidies for ebikes, now.

Subsidies are, after all, a historically successful way for governments to help launch new industries into orbit.

Many new technologies are expensive early on. If they’re technologies that seem likely to offer big public benefits, governments often step…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.