Edmonton backpedals on e-bike rebate program

The City of Edmonton is backpedaling on its rebate program launched in early June to help people pay for electric bicycles.  

Council votes 10-3 to cancel $100K program for 2021-22; 2020 rebates stand

City's rebate program offered to pay 30 per cent of the cost of an e-bike, to a maximum of $750. (CBC)

Edmonton is backpedaling on its rebate program launched in early June to help people pay for electric bicycles. 

City council voted 10-3 Monday to put the $100,000 program on hold for 2021-22. 

Councillors Aaron Paquette and Ben Henderson, along with Mayor Don Iveson, voted against cancelling the program, which is part of the city's climate change strategy.

Coun. Scott McKeen put a motion forward to repeal the program after hearing from many constituents.

"To a lot of people this felt really overly generous at this time, that some people wouldn't be able to even afford a $500-700 bike," McKeen said during the meeting. 

"That those rebates coming for people when a lot of others were out of work or losing their business was really fanning the flames of discontent."

As part of the Electric Vehicle Charger and Electric Bike Rebate program, Edmonton residents were eligible for a 30 per cent subsidy on the price of an e-bike to a maximum of $750.

Paquette said although some people are angry about the subsidy in the time of COVID-19, the city risks the same backlash from those investing in e-bikes. 

"There's also an equal reputational danger of offering something and then snatching it away without notice."

Paquette said he was astonished at the controversy the program has stirred. 

"There's an intersection of passions in this city on this one, that's for sure."

He questioned the decision to spend millions on cutting grass, "but we can't spend $50,000 on an e-bike program that takes congestion off the roads, that helps people be more mobile, that helps seniors?" 

Stephanie McCabe, manager of urban form and corporate strategic development branch, told council the city has received nearly 700 applications this year and validated about 380 of them. 

She said with $50,000 available this year, 83 people were eligible and would receive the rebate.

Bike shops around Edmonton saw a spike in demand for all kinds of bikes during COVID-19, the owner of Mud, Sweat and Gears, Paul Burgess, said Monday. 

Starting at about $3,000, e-bikes aren't cheap and the rebate helped bring in customers, he said. 

'It did help certainly get new riders into that category," Burgess said. "It caused an exponential rush when that program came out." 

Not everyone is going to rush out to get an e-bike but he noted it's part of the city's plan to encourage greener transportation. 

"It's a necessary part of the infrastructure that a city has," Burgess said, acknowledging governments have difficult budgetary decisions in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I don't envy anybody trying to navigate this mess we're in."

The demand for e-bikes started to grow a few years ago, he said, with more people looking to take advantage of river valley trails and some older people wanting electric power.

In December, council asked administration to list programs that could be accelerated to reach the city's climate change goals, she noted, and this was one. 

The city launched the program in early June as part of the city's strategy to transition to a low-carbon future.