Where are Fresno’s e-bikes? State program hasn’t delivered a bike yet in five years

Five years after the creation of a state plan to get electric bikes into the hands of low income Californians through a $10 million voucher system, the program appears stuck in the state bureaucracy for people in Fresno, with no timeline for implementation.

The holdup stands in contrast to the kickoff of similar programs in the San Francisco Bay Area and the planned rollout in the Sacramento area later this Spring, according to officials there.

Spinning wheels

The Fresno Bee touted the e-bike project two years ago, but the wheels appear to have been spinning without traction since.

Senate Bill 400, written by State Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), passed in 2019 and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, uses money from the state’s Cap-And-Trade program to provide financial help for those buying an e-bike, based upon income.

The measure expanded an existing law intended to remove old or polluting cars from the state’s roadways with financial incentives through the California Air Resources Board.

Less greenhouse gases

In authoring the bill, Umberg said a 15 percent increase in the use of e-bikes could result in an 11 percent decrease of greenhouse gas emissions.

The project supports grants for a variety of e-bikes, including bicycles designed for people with disabilities, utility bikes for carrying equipment or passengers, and folding e-bikes.

But so far for residents of the Central San Joaquin Valley, the chance to get their hands on an e-bike through the program isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

Still waiting

Officials at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who would help implement the program, say they are waiting on the air resources board.

“We’re eager for the statewide program to launch as soon as possible,” said Heather Heinks, a spokeswoman for the air district.

Over at the air resources board, Communications Director Lys Mendez said the program would be launched “later this year,” after “building relationships with community-based organizations for future outreach and engagement,” but Mendez did not reply to a request for more details.

No comment from senator

The Bee reached out to Umber, the state senator who envisioned the e-bike project, to ask if he was frustrated by the five-year rollout effort.

He declined to comment.

According to CalBike, eligibility for vouchers would depend on applicants having a household income capped at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, with “priority given to those under 225 percent of the federal poverty level ... or living in a disadvantaged community.”

A voucher would be good for up to $1,000 for a regular e-bike and up to $1,750 for a cargo or adaptive e-bike. Participants would have to buy their e-bike from a California bike dealer or online from a business located in the state.

San Francisco’s project

What would an e-bike voucher program look like?

  • A program implemented by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, offers qualifying residents the option to dismantle their old car in exchange for $7,500 in grant funding to use on public transit and for the purchase of an electric bicycle (e-bike) and bike accessories.

  • A San Francisco program, not income-based, Electrify My Ride, is offered by the city’s Public Utility Commission. It will launch in February, and is now signing up retailers, according to Program Manager Elise Mazzuca. She said customers of the utility district will be able to receive $1,000 off the purchase price of a new e-bike from participating bike shops, “right at the register.”

Still peddling

The Bay Area versions of the e-bike program might serve as a model for Fresnans, who will have to keep peddling for now.