E-bikes can be a good alternative to driving: Bikeshare can make more people aware of them.
If you’ve tried one, you know that electric-assisted bicycles, or e-bikes, have some important advantages over regular bicycles. They are faster, meaning you can go farther in the same amount of time. They also require less of your energy, especially going up hills or starting up from a stop. For many people, and particularly older people or people with certain physical limitations, an e-bike can mean the difference between bicycling or not. If e-bike trips replace driving trips, the e-bikers and everyone else benefit from reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements to public health.
So how do we get more people on e-bikes?
A necessary first step is to increase awareness of e-bikes. Bikeshare systems that rent e-bikes could be one way to accomplish that. These systems give people both direct exposure to e-bikes (when they rent them) and indirect exposure (when they see others who have rented them pedaling around). To test the idea that a bikeshare system can raise awareness, we took advantage of the opening of such a system in the Sacramento area (including the city of Davis, where we work). The system was operated by JUMP (at the time a subsidiary of Uber) from its opening in May 2018 to its closing in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The system offered short-term e-bike rentals through per-trip fees or a long-term subscription.