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This Joe Trades Bikes for Clunkers

A bicycle shop in Portland, Oregon, refashions the federal car rebate into a program to encourage bike ownership.
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Cash for Clunkers may have wrapped up over the summer, but Joe Bike, a local bicycle shop in Portland, Oregon, has created its own version of the federal rebate program. But instead of trading in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars, the store's customers are being encouraged to ditch car ownership altogether.

Joe Bike's "Bikes for Clunkers" program began in August. In exchange for donating an old car or bicycle, the store's customers receive a discount of up to $200 on the store's bicycles, which range in price from $199 to $2700. Joe Doebele, the store's owner, devised the program as a challenge to the federal rebate initiative. "We in the shop thought Cash for Clunkers was a misguided idea because it brings people right back into debt," he says.

Doebele originally limited Bikes for Clunkers to bicycle donations, because Joe Bike had no means to accept cars. So he enlisted the help of the American Lung Association, which accepts vehicles and provides free towing for those who donate them. Customers can log onto the American Lung Association's website to arrange a pickup. They receive a receipt for their donation, which they then bring to Joe Bike for the store discount. Joe Bike has also partnered with Zipcar to offer discounted car-sharing memberships to the donors. Additionally, the receipt is good for a tax write-off, since the car counts as a charitable donation.

So far, Joe Bike has issued discounts to 15 customers who have brought in old bikes in exchange for one of his store's models. The store has not yet issued discounts for cars, Doebele says, because it takes a few weeks for customers to receive receipts for those donations from the American Lung Association. Still, he says, "It has increased attention. A lot of people have come in and asked about the process of donating a car." Sales have moved more briskly over the past ten weeks, he adds, and the store expects to gross close to $500,000 by the end of the year.

But Doebele sees Bikes for Clunkers as not just a means of ramping up sales at his store, which opened last November, but also as a campaign to limit car use. "Our shop was established on the desire to replace cars as much as possible with bikes," he says. Joe Bike sells customized cargo bikes, some of which can carry multiple passengers, and are designed to perform the same everyday tasks as cars. The goal of reducing car consumption enticed Zipcar to join the campaign, says Kaleb Miller, the company's marketing manager in Portland.

Bikes for Clunkers has since attracted even more participants. Six other nonprofit organizations, including the Humane Society of Oregon, and another local bike shop have joined. As a result, Doebele will run the discount program, originally planned as a month-long promotion, until the end of the year, and says he may extend it thereafter. He has also launched a website, bikesforclunkers.org, to promote it. "Hopefully," he says, "it will become a permanent thing, a model for other cities to follow."

Last updated: Oct 9, 2009




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