Pilot program to provide e-bikes to low-income workers in Durango, CO; NREL/CEO study on use patterns, efficiency benefits
Supported by a $50,000-grant from the Colorado Energy Office, 16 low-income workers in Durango, Colorado will receive e-bikes through a pilot program of the 4 Corners Office of Resource Efficiency (4CORE). The nonprofit received the grant funding from the state’s “Can Do Colorado Community Challenge.”
The bikes, manufactured by Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes, were procured for the program through the help of Roll, a local e-bike rental company. The bikes are Class II e-bikes—i.e., pedal-assist with a throttle. The e-bikes have a top speed of 20 mph. Recipients will also receive helmets, LED lights, locks, panniers and training.
The bikes come with removable battery packs, which workers can take off and recharge when they go into work or get home. The only requirement of participants is they chart their travels on an app, which is being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) earlier partnered with the Colorado Energy Office to assess the travel-behavior impacts of providing low-income essential workers with e-bikes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis results indicated that, among participants during the study period, e-bikes were the dominant travel mode for 30% of trips, followed by shared rides at 29% and single-occupancy-vehicle trips at just 20%.
Launched in fall 2020, the Colorado Energy Office’s Can Do Colorado eBike mini-pilot was designed to encourage energy-efficient transportation during the pandemic and demonstrate that e-bikes are a safe, healthy, and convenient way to make essential trips, including commuting to work.
Pedal-assist e-bikes use an electric motor and battery to help power the bike. The motor amplifies the power behind each pedal stroke, augmenting the energy the rider puts into the bike.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduced car travel, resulting in improved air quality and an opportunity to preview a cleaner mobility future. Here at NREL, we wanted to determine how giving front-line workers an e-bike mobility option would affect their travel behavior, possibly contributing to a longer-term shift away from car dependence.—NREL’s Andy Duvall, a transportation behavior analyst
The initial three-month pilot program provided e-bikes to 13 low-income essential workers in the Denver area. The insights garnered from this small-scale pilot—detailed in the resulting NREL technical report—are informing the design of the full-scale, two-year pilot slated to begin this summer in locations across Colorado.
Collecting and Assessing the Data. The data collection and integrated analysis elements of this project leveraged a smart-phone platform—e-mission—developed by K. Shankari, a director’s fellow in NREL’s Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences. Used to instrument human mobility, the free, open-source platform enables people to track their travel modes and measure their associated energy use and carbon footprint. Shankari customized the platform for the e-bike program, adding a gamification functionality to the collection of long-term travel-behavior data.
Our analysis results indicate that the use of e-bikes corresponded to reduced travel time and increased productivity. Such end-to-end travel using a relatively fast yet inexpensive mode of transportation is very attractive. E-bikes also provide a very affordable entry into the burgeoning electric vehicle marketplace.
The e-bike program offers an important solution for affordable, efficient transportation. Such programs can go a long way toward supporting both equity and sustainability.—K. Shankari
Micromobility. Micromobility options, such as manual and electric-assisted human-powered vehicles, are often presented as a solution for reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency for short-distance trips, especially in urban areas. Although transportation researchers have studied shared micromobility usage extensively, they have been unable to assess ownership micromobility characteristics due to the lack of relevant data. The data set generated via this project helps fill the gap while also informing the micromobility work that Duvall leads for the US Department of Energy’s Systems and Modeling for Accelerated Research in Transportation Mobility Project.
As far as I know, this is the only ownership model e-bike data-collection effort to date. The new data set reflects a longitudinal view of ownership micromobility, e-bike usage patterns, trip purpose, and the travel modes that the e-bike trips replaced. Unlike shared micromobility—where a third of the trips are used for accessing transit—ownership micromobility seems to be used more for end-to-end trips, like how cars are used.—Andy Duvall
The pilot provided a baseline for understanding e-bike behavior, particularly as it pertains to personal ownership.
The analysis results, based on the subset of trips with user-reported labels (68%), indicate that the e-bike was the dominant commute mode share (31%), in sharp contrast to the census bicycle commute mode share (<1%). E-bike trips primarily replaced single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips (28%), followed closely by walking (24%) and regular bike (20%). The nonmotorized mode replacement corresponds to lower travel time and increased productivity enabled by the program. The emissions impact analysis of the program, computed using trip-level energy intensity factors, indicates savings of 1,367 lbs. of CO2. Although the results are strongly positive, the narrow demographic profile of study participants, their limited mobility alternatives, and nonuniform labeling indicate caution in broader interpretation.
These preliminary results do suggest that such programs, supported by real-time education and support from program managers, can simultaneously meet equity and sustainability goals. The planned full pilot, addressing the data collection challenges and broadening the geographic scope, will provide additional insights into the generality of this approach.—Shankari et al.
Shankari, K., Leidy Boyce, Ethan Hintz, and Andrew Duvall. 2021. “The CanBikeCO Mini Pilot: Preliminary Results and Lessons Learned.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-5400-79657.