Increasing Access to E-bikes in Car-Filled California

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Southern California is well-known for its car-culture, vehicle congestion, and auto-centric design. The impacts of the region’s dependence on fossil fuel-powered vehicles are significant. Local air quality remains among the worst in the nation. Driving is the number one source of climate pollution, now accounting for more than 50% of greenhouse gas emissions statewide. And scientists at the California Air Resources Board have made it clear that electrifying all our cars will not be enough to meet the state’s climate or public health goals. Californians also need to start replacing some car trips with walking, bicycling, or taking public transit. 

Enter the E-bike, an affordable alternative to an electric car that makes riding hills and longer distances a relative breeze. Thanks in part to advances in battery technology and small electric motors, e-bike performance has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past five years, leading to a dramatic increase in popularity around the world. In 2021, Americans purchased more electric bikes than electric cars.  

In southern California, residents of coastal communities have been among the most enthusiastic early adopters. Travel to just about any coastal community in California and you’ll see people of all ages zipping around on e-bikes. The rate of growth has not been as pronounced in California’s inland communities, in part due to their more suburban nature, general lack of dedicated bikeways, and lower socio-economic status. 

A GoSVG E-Bike in California.

Recognizing the disparity, Active San Gabriel Valleya local non-profit focused on realizing healthier, more sustainable communities — conducted an assessment in 2021 which determined that most area residents had never tried an e-bike before and that cost was a significant barrier to entry. The organization then partnered with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments to launch the United State’s first monthly subscription-style electric bike share program. The GoSGV program is modeled after similar efforts in France (Véligo), Australia (Lug + Carry), and the Netherlands (Swapfiets) designed to help the public experience life with an e-bike at an affordable price. For about the same cost of renting an e-bike for a few hours in Santa Monica, residents can ride a GoSGV e-bike for an entire month. 

GoSGV participants may choose between a commuter-style “City” e-bike, or a cargo/family e-bike designed to carry larger loads and/or small children. Both Class II E-bike models feature a step-through frame, front basket, and integrated front and rear lights to make riding night or day easy. Each bike has a top assisted speed of 18 mph, battery range of 30-40 miles, and charge time of approximately 4 hours. Introductory pricing is $49 a month for the general public, $39 a month for students, $19 a month for income-qualifying residents, and $129 a month for the family cargo model. 

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Altadena resident Carolyn Finger said that the program “gave me an opportunity to test out having an e-bike before committing to the investment.” 

Participants who fall in love with their Classic Commuter bike can also sign up for the program’s “share-to-own” option and keep their bike for good after 36 months. Those who wish to purchase a different e-bike may also look to local e-bike incentives, such as the local Air Quality Management District’s “Replace Your Ride” program. 

For more information about the GoSGV program, please visit goSGV.com.

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Wesley Reutimann
Wesley Reutimann
Wesley Reutimann was born and raised in the SGV, and has spent most of his adult life in the valley. A graduate of Williams College (MA) and the University of Basel (Switzerland), Wesley co-founded ActiveSGV in 2010 and fostered the group's transition from an all-volunteer community coalition to a professionally-staffed organization, serving as Executive Director from 2016-2018. Wesley has over a decade of experience in the non-profit, public health, and education sectors, with a specific focus on the built environment, sustainability, and healthy communities.
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