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Mayor to E-Bike/E-Scooter Supporters: Power Down! [Updated]

2:41 PM EST on January 23, 2019

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, in red. To her right are NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan and Legislative Affairs Director Oleg Chernyavsky. Photo: David Meyer

Mayor de Blasio does not support e-bike and e-scooter legalization at this time, his transportation commissioner testified Wednesday at the kickoff of a debate on several City Council bills that would encourage both forms of mobility.

"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 Wednesday's hearing, which centered on four e-bike and e-scooter bills. "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."

Trottenberg was referring to a proposal by Gov. Cuomo to allow cities to decide for themselves whether to legalize the devices — but Trottenberg did not provide any insight into whether the mayor would back the Council's bid to go ahead and do just that.

Delivery worker Jinhua Li wants e-bikes legalized. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Delivery worker Jinhua Li wants e-bikes legalized. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Delivery worker Jinhua Li wants e-bikes legalized. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

"We are still in the early stages of evaluating how [e-scooters] operate in urban areas," she said of e-scooters, adding that her agency was in conversation with leaders of other cities where scooters are in operation. She said it wasn't clear yet that e-scooter trips were actually replacing car trips — or that the hardware was even up-to-par.

"Talking to other cities, these things are pretty disposal. They last between a month and two months," Trottenberg warned.

The Council's Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez countered that he believes the city has the right to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters regardless of the state proposal.

In terms of e-bikes, Trottenberg suggested that the mayor remains concerned by their supposed negative safety impacts — though the city has never produced any data that the devices pose more of a danger to pedestrians than regular bikes.

The mayor used that safety concern to justify his crackdown on the e-bikes, announced in October 2017. In 2018, NYPD increased its confiscations of e-bikes by 20 percent, according to Police Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. Each throttled-powered e-bike is worth around $1,800, and confiscations and tickets can up to well over $1,000 for the city's delivery workforce. More than 1,200 were confiscated last year.

City Council proponents of e-bike legalization pushed back on the assertion that either e-bikes or e-scooters are dangerous. Trottenberg claimed that three people have been killed riding e-scooters already here — which garnered pushback from Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a sponsor of the e-scooter legalization bill.

"They don't tend to cause injuries to others," Cabrera told Trottenberg and NYPD officials testifying by her side. "They don't tend to cause injuries to others. Can we agree to that, that e-scooters are not known to cause injuries?"

His statement was met with jeers from some members of the audience.

"I think it may be too early to say," said NYPD Legislative Affairs Director Oleg Chernyavsky. "We don't really disaggregate the data."

Update: An earlier version said that Trottenberg claimed that two people had died on scooters. The DOT later issued a statement claiming it is three.

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