bird scooters, electric scooters
E-scooters, seen here on a sidewalk in San Jose, CA, might be legalized in NYC.Wikimedia Common.

Legislators put a bill forward aiming to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes in New York State, which could potentially put NYC on the path to recognizing the devices as street-legal means for people to get around town. 

New York State Senator Jessica Ramos wants to grant electric-powered bikes and e-scooters weighing under 100 pounds that can reach speeds of no more than 20 miles per hour the same rights as regular bike riders. 

“Legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters will provide New Yorkers with alternatives means of transportation that are affordable and environmentally friendly,” Ramos said in a statement. “It will also ensure we are protecting our immigrant neighbors who work in food delivery, many of whom are more comfortable and feel safer on e-bikes.”

“As we aim to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion, we want to empower municipalities to set their own rules as populations across the city differ.” 

 

At present, e-scooters and throttled bike riding is punishable with a $500 fine in NYC, thanks to a law passed in 2004, which also granted police the green light to impound the devices, and required scooters sellers to post signs about the ban, claiming that injuries related to these electric devices are a growing concern.

"Motorized scooters traveling at any speed can be dangerous for operators and pedestrians alike, particularly in New York City," former Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Times. "Existing laws are, however, sufficient to address the goals of this legislation." 

However, definitions and legislative standards have been nebulous enough to require significant clarification efforts. In October 2017, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD announced increased enforcement against electric bikes, especially towards businesses that use them for delivery services. 

In April 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to clarify that electronic pedal-assist bicycles are street legal, but “throttle e-bikes, capable of travel at speeds over 20 mph, cannot be legally operated on City streets under State law.”

“New York is one of the last states left in the country that has yet to legalize and define e-bicycles and e-scooters,” Ramos wrote in the bill. “This lack of definition has created confusion over how these low-speed devices should be regulated, causing New York cities to fall behind the rest of the country in adopting this next generation of micro-mobility.” 

The Department of Motor Vehicles does not register electric bicycles, which is another legal barrier.

Ramos’ bill, co-sponsored by state Assembly member Nily Rozic, would legalize e-bikes and e-scooters on a state-level, and leave regulation decisions to local lawmakers.

“The city’s concern with these throttle e-bikes has always been their unregulated, illegal nature and particularly their speeds and irresponsible use by some,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at a hearing held in January. “Should state action provide the ability for localities to authorize these devices, we’d be open to a conversation with the council about whether to allow them here in New York City.”

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