Try, Try Again: Jessica Ramos Bill Proposes Simpler E-Bike/E-Scooter Legislation

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has declined to entertain a local e-bike bill until the state acts.

Photo: Lime Bike
Photo: Lime Bike

E-bikes and e-scooters may soon be legalized in the Big Apple, thanks to a State Senate bill that would let cities across the state decide for themselves how to regulate the booming form of micro- and environmentally superior long-distance mobility.

Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos put e-bike and e-scooter legalization back on the agenda in Albany on Tuesday, introducing new legislation that omits Draconian regulations proposed by the Cuomo administration in January — including a requirement that e-bike riders yield to motorists or wear helmets.

Like Gov. Cuomo’s proposal, Ramos’s bill actually removes the state from regulating the currently illegal vehicles, allowing local municipalities to set their own e-bike and e-scooter rules. As a result, the bill would put New York City one-step closer towards legalizing e-bikes widely used by immigrant delivery workers, who face NYPD harassment and hefty fines for using the vehicles.

“Legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters will provide New Yorkers with alternatives means of transportation that are affordable and environmentally friendly. 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,” Ramos said in a statement. “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.”

The new legislation is simpler and more straightforward than what was floated by Governor Cuomo in his January budget proposal and ultimately scrapped at the behest of the legislature’s Manhattan delegation. Instead of Cuomo’s “locally authorized motorcycles” and “locally authorized scooters,” Ramos has proposed the establishment of four new non-auto vehicle categories, in line with the industry’s preferred classifications: pedal-assist e-bikes with maximum speeds of 20 mph, throttle-powered e-bikes, pedal-assist e-bikes with maximum speeds of 28 mph, and e-scooters.

NYPD's e-bike seizures impose a heavy cost on low-wage delivery workers. Photo: NYPD
NYPD’s e-bike seizures impose a heavy cost on low-wage delivery workers. Photo: NYPD

If Ramos bill passes — and that remains a big “if” — the city council would still need to act, since city law prohibits “motorized scooters.” Legislation permitting the two electric vehicles has already been introduced, but Council Speaker Corey Johnson has yet to signal his support, pointing to the need for state authorization. (Johnson wiped out on a scooter in Mexico City this week, and has said in the past that he is concerned about rider safety on scooters, so it’s unclear where he is right now on the issue.)

Some advocates believe state authorization is unnecessary. Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives argues that e-bikes and e-scooters already fall under the state vehicle and traffic law’s definition of “limited use vehicles,” which are defined as vehicles that cannot travel more than 40 mph.

Before e-scooter companies entered the scene, e-bike legalization had languished in Albany for years.

Assembly Member Nily Rozic, also of Queens, will be carrying the assembly version of the bill. Ramos said she’s working with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kennedy to hold a hearing on the bill in New York City. E-scooter companies and e-bike advocates alike praised Ramos and Rozic for introducing the bill.

“This legislation can bring an end to NYC’s crackdown on immigrant workers on e-bikes that has been fueled by fear mongering about public safety that is completely unsupported by safety data,” said Do Lee of the Biking Public Project, which supports immigrant delivery workers.

“New Yorkers deserve, and have demanded, access to e-scooters and e-bikes — low-cost, equitable transit options that reduce congestion and carbon emissions in cities,” said Bird Director of Safety Policy Paul Steely White. “We look forward to the day we can serve New York communities and meet their transportation needs.”

Opponents will likely say the new mode of transportation, which is surging in popularity around the nation, is unsafe. A spokesman for State Sen. Liz Krueger said earlier this month that the senator “does not feel that Manhattan streets and bike lanes can handle throttle e-bikes or e-scooters,” but was open to scooters in “other boroughs or communities outside of New York City.”

The city council legislation would legalize e-scooters and e-bikes citywide, but would limit the initial roll out of private scooter-share providers pilot areas in the outerboroughs.

  • Joe R.

    If I’m reading the proposed legislation correctly, it looks like all three classes of e-bikes would be treated as regular bicycles under the law, and not subject to any additional requirements beyond those which already exist for bicycles. That’s exactly how the law should be.

    If Liz Krueger has concerns, then perhaps the law should only apply to the outer boroughs for now, and Manhattan can craft its own legislation. Just because something might be an issue in Manhattan is no excuse to ban it citiwide.

  • Dan

    I really like the idea of eScooters – they’re simple and make commuting/walking between long distances much easier. But I really hate that they are dockless and know people will throw them wherever they feel like, especially in a place like NYC where there are so many people that leaving anything wherever you feel like it will cause issues. There should be some sort of zone where you can leave them like within 5 feet of a CitiBike station or something.

  • Saundra

    Mak­e extra profit each week… This is a great part-time job for everybody… The best part is that you can work from comfort of your house and start earning from 100 to 2000 bucks every week … Start now and have your first payment at the end of this week…> http://gtaxl.org/2v

  • walks bikes drives

    I was for the idea of the dockless scooters in principal. But then I saw them in action out in the midwest. They were strewn about everywhere, and especially in the evenings, teenagers and young adults were whipping about on the sidewalk on the scooters at high speeds. The sidewalks were no where near as crowded as in the city. A fallen scooter on a NYC sidewalk would be a much larger tripping hazard than it was there, and rider behavior would be that much more dangerous. I’m sorry, but instead of being sold on them, seeing them in actual action, I was quite dissuaded. I would much rather see a wider expansion of citibike, both in terms of new neighborhoods and expansion of docks where it is already located.

  • sheilaby

    They are a disaster waiting to happen. And in NYC completely unnecessary.

  • sheilaby

    If Jessica Ramos is so bullish on e-bikes and electric scooters, let’s get her on a bicycle in Manhattan to ride around a few days and experience how crowded it already is. Maybe then her eyes will open to what an asinine proposal this is.

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