France to Offer E-Bikes for Clunkers

New climate bill offers owners of old cars 2,500 euros towards the purchase of an e-bike.

E-bike shop in south of france
Outside an e-bike store in France.

Lloyd Alter

France is on a serious roll with its new climate bill. We noted previously how it is banning short local flights; there is also an amendment to the bill that offers owners of old cars a grant of 2,500 euros (about $3,000) towards the purchase of an e-bike. Olivier Schneider of the French Federation of Bicycle Users tells Reuters that “For the first time it is recognized that the solution is not to make cars greener, but simply to reduce their number."

This is not quite true, Finland has been doing this for a while, having funded over 2,000 e-bikes. But the French scheme and Schneider's comment are still very significant. We have noted before that electric cars are not a silver bullet because of the upfront carbon emissions, or embodied carbon, released during their manufacture, and we have also asked if governments are going to subsidize electric vehicles, why not e-bikes?

Bike expert Carleton Reid covers the story in Forbes and points to a statement from Cycling Industries Europe chief executive Kevin Mayne:

“... We have said there should be no car scrappage schemes in recovery and climate plans that don’t include the option of bicycle purchases. We are seeing a welcome increase in stand-alone incentives for bicycle purchases, but the French Assembly has made it clear – e-bikes and cargo bikes are to be supported as vehicle replacements. Every government needs to recognize that it is the cycling industries of Europe that are leading the world in the change to e-mobility.”

Switching to E-Bikes Can Mean a Big Reduction in Carbon Emissions

Rental e-bikes in Paris
Rental e-bikes in Paris. Lloyd Alter

We have previously quoted UK research which found that "the cost of saving a kilogram of CO2 via schemes to boost e-bike use is less than half the cost of existing grants for EVs." It was looking at "e-bikes’ potential to reduce carbon emissions, air pollution, and congestion." And that didn't even address the question of embodied carbon, which the Centre for Research in Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) did with full life-cycle analyses.

cars vs ebikes lifecycle analysis

The Nissan Leaf also has a much lower carbon footprint than bigger electric cars with bigger batteries, giving the e-bike an even greater advantage over EVs. The average trip in the USA is between seven and 12 miles, not a struggle on an e-bike. That's why programs like the one in France should be tried in North America. Or as Andrea Learned, founder of Bikes4Climate and a promoter of e-bikes in Seattle, tells Treehugger,

"This aligns with what I've been emphasizing with the city leaders and eBike advocates in cities across the U.S. Start seeing an eBike or eCargoBike as the second household car we Americans always seem to have. Incentivizing folks to just think differently for a minute, simply opens up a whole new perspective on what they truly need for their lives. A carrot from the government to recycle an older car could do absolute wonders here. Are you listening, Secretary Pete? "