Santa Cruz County transportation leaders give nod to e
SANTA CRUZ — Local transportation leaders are leaning into an initiative that encourages electric bicycle usage across the county by lowering the barriers to entry using payment vouchers.
Staff at the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will begin seeking grant funding for a new program that will offer point-of-sale vouchers for electric bicycle purchases. The program targets income-qualified people throughout the county for whom an electric bicycle might be otherwise cost prohibitive.
The pilot project, part of the commission's GO Santa Cruz County platform, looks to capitalize on the increasing popularity of e-bikes as an efficient and clean transportation option for a county that has long been plagued by unrelenting vehicle traffic.
Transportation planner Amanda Marino told the commission at its Thursday meeting that staff intends to request a $400,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Air Resources District — the maximum amount available — later this month that would help cover the cost of vouchers and program management, in addition to exploring other regional grant opportunities.
"Vouchers will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are exhausted," said Marino, "the more funding the RTC can secure, the greater number of vouchers will be provided to the community."
Potential voucher amounts are $800 for a standard e-bike and $1,200 for a cargo or adaptive e-bike. Traditional manual bicycles will also be included in the program with a proposed $300 voucher.
The initiative seeks to build on the success of a similar e-bike rebate program offered by the city of Santa Cruz to its employees and other downtown workers since 2021 — the only one of its kind in the county and broader region.
"We have over 600 people that we had denied from our program who are not located within the downtown," said Santa Cruz transportation planner Claire Gallogly. "There's incredible latent demand outside of downtown for people who would be immediately willing and excited to jump onto this program."
Ecology Action will be the administrator of the commission's program and already performs the same function in Santa Cruz.
According to the staff report, eligibility requirements may include:
• Individuals 18 years or older or a community-serving organization.
• One incentive per individual or organization.
• Live or work in Santa Cruz County.
• Currently receiving a low-income benefit or assistance through a verifiable program. Generally speaking, an individual's or family's income must be below 300% of the federal poverty level to qualify for these benefits.
Planners will also aim to include incentives for discounted membership in an electric bikeshare program that is beginning to roll out across the county. The bikeshare system, scheduled to launch June 20 in Santa Cruz and expand to Capitola, Watsonville and unincorporated county regions in early 2024, offers reduced-rate annual membership for students and campus affiliates at UC Santa Cruz.
Commission staff intends to consult with a local bikeshare working group with members from multiple county jurisdictions to negotiate the best possible discounted rates for those who may want to use an e-bike but are unable to purchase one for various reasons.
Alternate Commissioner Andy Schiffrin was vocally supportive of the program and encouraged staff to consider distributing vouchers in a more systematic way to ensure underserved communities have a fair opportunity.
"Since there is a desire to really spread these around … it may make sense to allocate a certain proportion of the funding to other areas of the county, particularly in South County," said Schiffrin.
According to transportation planner Amy Naranjo, the commission's voucher program could roll out late this year or early 2024 after grant awards have been announced.
The commission also held a public hearing Thursday to receive community feedback on a draft environmental impact report detailing the third and final phase of a Highway 1 project. The effort seeks to establish auxiliary lanes and bus-on-shoulder facilities from Freedom Boulevard to Morrissey Boulevard.
The final phase stretches about 1.75 miles from State Park Drive to Freedom Boulevard and its scope includes 1.25 miles of Coastal Rail Trail Segment 12.
Third phase construction could begin as soon as 2025, according to the staff report.
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