If you own an e-bike, you get used to certain questions: how fast does it go, how often does it need to be charged, how much did it cost?
My e-bike was a bottom-end one two years ago – I didn’t know if I’d end up using it, so I didn’t spend more than I had to. Since then, the quality has generally gone up, and so has the price. Andrew Chen, who just bought one, says that reliable entry-level bikes are $2500-$3000. That’s quite a bit of money, but so are other commuting methods.
In the mornings, I take a train to Newmarket then ride to the University. In the evenings I ride all the way home. That costs me $1.85 for a train fare. Going by bus all the way both ways costs $6.30, so I save $4.45 by cycling. Since I often stop to go shopping on the way home I’d sometimes need to pay an extra fare on the bus – and before Auckland Transport started proper transfers, shopping would always be an extra fare.
Suppose we use $4.45/day as the benchmark. At 5 days a week – reasonable, because while I miss some weekdays, I do ride at weekends too – that’s $1157/year. Over three years that’s over $3400 – enough for an e-bike plus maintenance – and even the battery should last substantially longer than that.
You might think I need to add the cost of electricity: I pay about 30c per kWh; a complete charge is about 1/3 kWh; I probably average less than 3 charges per week. Over three years that’s maybe $50.
Now, I’ve got some important advantages here. I can often leave work earlier or later to avoid rain – and if necessary leave my bike there overnight. Also, I’m at the very end of a train line, so I can be sure of getting my bike on the train in the morning. Still, it’s notable how quickly a bike pays off compared to bus fares – and the comparison to University parking permit would be even more favourable. Obviously the numbers for a conventional bike would be dramatically better – but since I’m not going to commute on a conventional bike, that’s not really relevant.
When electric bikes are expensive but cost-saving at plausible discount rates, there’s interesting potential for employers to subsidise them.