One Question Quiz
Gif of an e-bike with lightning as the pedal with a background of money notes.
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONSocietyJanuary 24, 2023

Why New Zealand needs an e-bike rebate

Gif of an e-bike with lightning as the pedal with a background of money notes.
Image: Tina Tiller

The Clean Car Discount has helped record numbers into more sustainable transport. But what about those who can’t afford a hybrid or EV?

Since 2021, the government’s Clean Car Discount scheme has gotten record numbers of New Zealanders out of gas guzzlers and into electric vehicles. Thanks to the discount, in 2022, EVs made up 15% of all new vehicle sales. That figure rose to 20% in December, setting new yearly and monthly records, respectively. This discount scheme, otherwise known as a rebate, offers up to $8,625 back on the price of low and zero-emissions cars. 

Up to $8,625 back on the price of a clean car sounds great, but plenty of New Zealanders can’t afford to fork out the thousands of dollars it costs to buy an EV or hybrid in the first place. The cheapest clean cars I could find on Trade Me cost over $10,000, well out of the budget of most students, beneficiaries and low-income earners.  

People who can’t afford a clean car still deserve the option to transition to sustainable transport beyond unreliable public transport. So how can we bridge the gap?

The answer, according to national and local governments around the globe, is an e-bike rebate. From North America to Europe, people who can’t afford clean cars can instead join the sustainable transport revolution on a discounted e-bike. Compared to the $10,000 plus for a clean car, e-bikes can be bought for as little as $1,000 on Trade Me. 

Used e-bikes found on Trade Me.
Some of the cheapest Trade Me e-bikes I could find, neither of which qualify for a clean vehicle rebate… yet. (Photo: Trade Me)

It’s not even like e-bike rebates are a new idea in New Zealand. In 2019, the government introduced an e-bike discount scheme for public sector staff. The discount ranged from $300-$1,200, which equated to between 10% to 50% off of an e-bike price tag. 

Even in the USA, the home of car dependency, more and more places are adopting e-bike rebates. 2022 saw five states introduce the discount, and more states, including California and Oregon, are starting them up. The proposed Californian discount is up to US$1,500 ($2,351), whereas Oregon’s would top out at US$1,700 ($2,661). In some states, rebates are higher for lower-income earners, students or people without cars.

France is currently taking an aggressive approach to cut transport emissions, including an impressive e-bike rebate. To maximise their return on this scheme, French citizens must trade in their petrol car for an e-bike. Low-income French citizens who live in low-emission urban zones get the most out of the rebate, up to €4,000 ($6,785). Other French citizens are eligible for a discount proportional to their income, and those who aren’t willing to trade in their car can only get a €400 ($678) rebate. 

Two bikes along the river Seine in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Bikes have become an important part of France’s climate crisis response. This bike and pedestrian space along the river Seine up until recently was a highway. (Photo: Paris Tourist Office)

A NZTA study into the public sector e-bike discount found that further schemes are worthy of investment. But NZTA suggested that any future rebate specifically needs to make e-bikes more financially accessible for lower income people. If the New Zealand government wants to avoid another financial blunder like the cost-of-living payments (where New Zealanders overseas and even deceased people received it in error), it could make the rebate proportional to income like many of the international examples. 

Getting people onto e-bikes as opposed to EV and hybrid cars is a much more space-efficient use of our transport and parking infrastructure. My e-bike could fit six times over in the on-road space of a Nissan Leaf/Toyota Prius (7.9m2) and eight times over for a Tesla Model S (10.89m2). The space efficiency of bikes becomes even more apparent when you factor in that roughly two-thirds of the cars on New Zealand roads are only carrying a single occupant. Regarding parking, NZTA claims that more than 10 bike parks can fit into one car park. It’s simple maths: if the share of people biking dramatically increased, our traffic and parking woes would decrease. 

E-bike rebate policies have proven to be politically popular internationally. With election season fast approaching don’t be surprised if the policy gets picked up by any of our political parties. An e-bike discount is a great way to give people who can’t afford an EV or hybrid car an opportunity to hop on the EV bandwagon. Not only is that good for people’s wallets, but it’s also simultaneously good for the environment and future generations. Sounds like a win-win. 

Keep going!