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Electric vehicles are the future if we want to preserve the planet

by Yucatan Times
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In the push to fight climate change, electric cars have become the centerpiece of plans to decarbonize American transportation. As much as that industry has boomed over the past several years, a less celebrated vehicle appears to be outpacing electric cars in sales.

Electric bikes have been around for decades, but they have exploded in popularity in recent years, thanks to advances in technology, increased concern about climate change, a spike in gas prices and the coronavirus pandemic — which made some modes of public transportation feel less safe for many commuters.

The term “e-bikes” describes any bicycle that includes an electric-powered motor that either aids riders in pedaling or doesn’t require them to pedal at all. Options on the market range from streamlined e-bikes that resemble a traditional bicycle to larger “cargo bikes” that can perform more like a Vespa scooter rather than a foot-powered bike. Prices can vary widely as well, with cheaper options costing less than $1,000, and high-end models running $5,000 or more.

For all of the enthusiasm for e-bikes, though, they have largely taken a back seat to electric cars in policy making. For example, President Biden’s signature climate legislation — the Inflation Reduction Act — included billions of dollars in tax incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars. But a provision that would have created similar rebates for e-bikes was cut from the final bill. Some state and local lawmakers have looked at making their own incentive programs. The most successful has been in Denver, where more than 5,000 residents have taken advantage of city-funded e-bike discounts since the program launched last year.

Why there’s debate

Many advocates argue that e-bikes, not electric cars, are the key to truly reducing the United States’ carbon footprint. While electric cars are greener than gas-powered vehicles, they are substantially more resource-intensive to produce and power. E-bikes are also much more affordable, costing a few thousand dollars at the high end, compared to the average electric car price of $65,000. Optimists say e-bikes can help cut car usage by a huge amount, since more than half of all daily trips made by Americans are less than 3 miles.

But skeptics say there are major hurdles that could prevent e-bikes from achieving their potential. The biggest drawback, many argue, is that most communities in the U.S. aren’t built to support a big influx in e-bike riders. The fastest e-bikes top out at 28 mph, far too slow to share the road with cars but fast enough to create a hazard in bike lanes filled with traditional bike riders. This conflict, along with the troubling trend of fires caused by cheap e-bike batteries, has raised serious safety concerns that could prevent a lot of people from switching to e-bikes.

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