New Jersey Legalizes E-Bikes and Scooters

As Lin-Manuel Miranda once observed in "Hamilton," "Everything is legal in New Jersey." Well, now the bard is certainly right about e-scooters and e-bikes.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy has legalized e-scooters and e-bikes in the Garden State. Here he is signing a legislation (albeit a different bill, but you get the idea) last week. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office.
N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy has legalized e-scooters and e-bikes in the Garden State. Here he is signing a legislation (albeit a different bill, but you get the idea) last week. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office.

Ring the bells! E-scooters and legalized e-bikes are coming to the New York region!

Just not to New York State — not yet, at least.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday signed legislation legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters on city streets, provided the vehicles top out at 20 and 19 miles per hour, respectively.

This kind of thing will now be legal in New Jersey (forever ruining Bob Dylan famous line that "In Jersey anything's legal, as long as you don't get caught").
This kind of thing will now be legal in New Jersey (forever ruining Bob Dylan famous line that “In Jersey, everything’s legal, as long as you don’t get caught”).

The governor’s signature came after the bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of the New Jersey state’s legislature. Similar legislation is pending — and perhaps endangered — here in New York.

“New Jersey has beat us to the punch and New York cannot stay behind,” said Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos, the New York bill’s sponsor.

After successes in California and other cities across the country, e-scooter companies are hoping to break into the New York region, where they hope a combination of low car ownership and heavy congestion will lead to profits.

But e-scooters are illegal to operate on New York City streets, as are e-bikes. Legislation to change that stalled in the city council earlier this year after Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s lawyers determined state authorization was necessary — because the state DMV requires registration for any vehicles that aren’t human-powered.

Last month, Ramos and fellow Queens Assembly Member Nily Rozic introduced legislation that would create 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.

E-bike delivery workers rallying against NYPD enforcement in December 2017. Photo: David Meyer
E-bike delivery workers rallying against NYPD enforcement in December 2017. Photo: David Meyer

The New Jersey bill takes a similar approach, but does not authorize any e-bike models whose speeds exceed 20 miles per hour.

Such legislation, if enacted in New York, would leave the city’s most prominent e-bike users — bicycle delivery workers — out in the cold. Those workers, many of whom are immigrants well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s, typically use throttle-powered bikes that do not have max speeds.

Before e-scooter companies entered the scene, e-bike legalization had languished in Albany for years. After those companies faced backlash elsewhere for deploying scooters without government approval, industry bigwigs opted for a by-the-books approach in the New York region. With the green light from Gov. Murphy, Lime plans to deploy its e-scooters in Hoboken “next week,” the company said in a statement.

Ramos and Rozic’s bill faces opposition from the legislature’s Manhattan delegation, who have been inundated with anecdotal complaints about the bikes in recent years, even though statistics show that e-bike riders have caused a minuscule number of pedestrian injuries.

Faced with burdensome NYPD enforcement, e-bike workers and their supporters have said they’re willing to get e-bike licenses and register their vehicles — if the law only allowed it. Alternatively, advocates have pushed the city to establish a program to help them convert their bikes from throttle-powered to pedal-assisted. New York City legalized the latter last year.

“By legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters, Governor Murphy is standing up for immigrant rights, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing traffic,” Ramos said. “We must follow suit this session and ensure we are offering as many transportation alternatives to cars as possible.”

Transportation Alternatives, a member of the coalition supporting Ramos’ bill, echoed her comments.

“The state legislature must act this session to protect food delivery workers and to get more cars off New York City streets. E-bikes and e-scooters across the United States are replacing car trips at astonishing rates. More than 30 other states have legalized e-bikes already. Our state legislature is complicit in enabling the City of New York’s draconian enforcement against food delivery workers and they must act to rectify it and bring the city into the 21st century,” said Marco Conner, the group’s interim executive director.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What’s the difference between an E-bike without a speed limitation and a motorcycle with an electric motor?

    Shouldn’t there be a limit to the speed AND weight that a person can use without a driver’s license?

    That’s the issue, is it not? Couldn’t I ride an e-bike with no speed limit on the street as a licensed driver, and say it is a “limited use motorcycle?” It would appear so.

  • Joe R.

    Federal law limits the classification of e-bikes to anything with a motor power of 750 watts or less. States can go beyond this if they wish but not below it. The 750 watts inherently limits the speed of an e-bike to about 30 mph or less, even with no governor. The point of allowing people to use e-bikes without any type of license is to encourage their use. Obviously, you need power and/or speed limits but those that exist are sufficient. A person on a regular bike can go 30 mph or more, especially downhill, yet they don’t need a license.

  • qrt145

    Why not make them both 20 mph? A 19 mph looks just plain stupid, as in “huh, let’s just set a trivially lower limit for scooters than for bikes for no reason”. In that case why not make it 19.1337 mph?

  • Joe R.

    It might have to do with the scooters being made for an international market that mostly uses the metric system. It might be that lots of them have a 30 km/hr limit, which is 18.6 mph. This rounds up to 19 mph.

    I wish the e-bike limit was higher. I kind of understand a fairly low limit for scooters given their inherent instability and small wheels. For e-bikes though, none of that applies. Human-powered bikes can and do exceed 20 mph all the time. As I wrote below, the 750 watt motor limit will inherently limit the speed anyway, even without a governor.

  • Elizabeth F

    The article is just plain wrong. The Arrow e-bikes DO have speed limiters, this is the only place I’ve ever seen that reported any differently. In the past, Arrows were definitely 20mph. Today’s Arrows seem to be 28mph — which is already illegal to use AND sell in NYC.

    In addition to fixing its e-bike laws, NYC needs to actually enforce them — at the point of sale, not point of use. Imagine if car manufactuers dealers could sell cars that fail to meet basic regulations, with no effective enforcement.

  • Elizabeth F

    The difference between the NJ law and what seems to be proposed for NY is: the NJ law legalizes e-bikes in ALL of NJ; whereas the NY law allows local municipalities to ban them. That would effectively make e-bikes impractical for transportation in NY outside of NY. This problem with the bill needs to be fixed.

  • Alex

    On average, a cyclist goes 10mph, cyclists that reach close to 20 mph is mainly on descents, or if they are bookin it on a long roadway without any obstacles like traffic lights and traffic.

    I average around 13-15mph on my bicycle, and i personally think e-bike should not even exceed 15mph. Bikes dont have perfect brakes, so to be able to ride a 50+lb e-bike at 20mph all the time doesnt seem like a good idea on NYC streets.

    If that have to share the same bike lanes as other cyclists, they shouldnt be able to go almost double the speed as human powered bikes.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s the problem with that sort of thinking. You’re limiting the speeds to what might be safe in worst-case scenarios (i.e. sub-standard, crowded bike lanes), and in the process crippling the vehicle, limiting its utility during times where higher speeds might be useful, or even safer (i.e. with no bike lanes the closer you can match traffic speeds the better). E-bike users can modulate their speeds the same as regular bike users if conditions dictate. Yours is a Manhattan-centric view which ignores the fact that 28 mph e-bikes would be extremely useful and safe in much of the outer boroughs. Not to mention there are people who think e-bikes don’t belong in bike lanes. I’m fine with that, but only if the e-bikes have enough speed to keep up with traffic in a general traffic lane. 15 mph doesn’t cut it. 20 mph really doesn’t either. That’s why I favor legalizing 28 mph e-bikes. Or better yet, having no governor but letting the motor power limit the speed. With 750 watts maximum, that would be around 30 mph, give or take a few mph. That’s sufficient to keep up with motor traffic on most NYC streets.

    On average, a cyclist goes 10mph, cyclists that reach close to 20 mph is mainly on descents, or if they are bookin it on a long roadway without any obstacles like traffic lights and traffic.

    That doesn’t seem to match my experience. 15 mph seems to be sort of an average cruising speed based on what I see, but I do see a fair number of cyclists going 20 mph or over even on level roads. On my own bike, I get to about 16 or 17 mph just letting the weight of my feet push down on the pedals. Also, to me part of the point of e-bikes is to help normalize the speeds between fast and slow cyclists. Many times slower cyclists actually CAN ride faster, and would do so if they didn’t mind arriving at their destination sweaty. If you put them on e-bikes, they will go faster. The smaller speed differentials between them and faster cyclists would then make bike lanes safer.

    On top of all this, the legal speed limit on NYC streets is generally at least 25 mph. If we designed bicycle infrastructure with this in mind, the higher speeds of e-bikes wouldn’t matter even in crowded bike lanes because there would be ample room for safe passing. And from a strictly transportation standpoint, faster is always better as it increases the potential travel radius in any given amount of time.

  • Joe R.

    There’s no scenario where 28 mph throttle e-bikes would be legal under any existing or proposed laws. If the Arrows can modified to only go 20 mph with the throttle, and 28 mph under pedal assist, then they would be legal under the law proposed by Ramos. However, I agree we need the law changed so it applies in all of NYS. If municipalities can restrict e-bikes then you’ll have a crazy quilt of laws statewide which will make e-bikes useless.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think this discussion of whether E-bikes are legal confuses things. You know what, any business that didn’t exist in 1961 is theoretically “illegal” under the NYC zoning law passed that year, because the list of permitted uses hasn’t been updated since. They keep saying the will, but they don’t. Typewriter repair shops, OK, anything that has to do with computers, illegal.

    So the Buildings Department makes interpretations. Sometimes with consideration. It’s a very New York political class thing. The wrong kind of person or a competitor tries to open a business? You make a complaint sick the city government on them. On an inspector wants a bribe.

    You had bicycles and scooters without motors. You had motorcycles with motors. What is an E-Bike? What is an E-scooter?

    Before these things came along, there were Mopeds.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moped

    And, since this happened before Generation Greed took control and New York became more of a political stink house than it already was, Mopeds were accommodated.

    “Prior to the 1970s, use of mopeds in the United States was relatively rare due to legal restrictions on the devices in many states. In 1972, Serge Seguin, after writing a masters thesis on the European moped, received two mopeds and a small amount of money from the French company Motobécane to promote the vehicle.[40] After lobbying Congress on its fuel efficiency benefits, Seguin was able to get more than 30 states to devise a specific vehicle classification for mopeds.”

    OK, so e-bikes and e-scooters are “Mopeds.” And you are allowed to operate them with a general motor vehicle operators’ license, rather than a motorcycle license, but not without them. Someone could make the case they already ARE legal in New York.

    https://dmv.ny.gov/registration/register-moped

    This is about the drivers’ license.

  • Larry Littlefield

    May I say further that adding e-bike and e-scooter to the rules for “limited use motorcycles” would not be the worst thing. They have to be registered, but there is no insurance requirement if they only go up to 20 mph.

    So this really gets back to the drivers’ license.

    Maybe that whole thing should be re-thought, and one should have to bike for a few years without incident starting at age 12 to move up to e-bikes, and then to bigger vehicles with four wheels,, with another few years for commercial operators.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, Segiun lobbied for and got a special classification for mopeds, but despite that, the vehicles never really caught on, primarily because of the licensing, and in some cases, insurance requirements. If you’re going to go through all that bother, might as well just get a full-fledged motorcycle which you can take on highways. Now if we do the same thing with e-bikes, we’ll kill their popularity. Remember, lots of people in NYC, me included, don’t have driver’s licenses. I’m not about to get one, or a motorcycle license, just so I can get an e-bike. It makes all the sense in the world to allow very light, very slow motorized vehicles to be treated the same as regular bikes, not as limited use motorcycles.

    The only question is what should the weight, power, and speed cutoffs be for this special treatment? I’ll go with 50 or 60 pounds for the weight and 750 watts for the power. The motor power will tend to limit the speed, as will the weight requirement (i.e. the range will suffer if you make the vehicle too fast since you just can’t keep piling on more batteries). That’s why I really don’t favor any particular number for the speed. Unless you streamline the vehicle, it will be inherently limited to about 30 mph or less. It might even be limited to far less than that by the gearing ratio if you trade off acceleration for top-end speed.

    The limited use motorcycle vehicle classification might be useful though for souped up e-bikes, including DIY models. I can see something along the lines of this, combined with a limited-use motorcycle license, where you basically just have to demonstrate some level of proficiency on your e-bike. The requirements would be far lower than a regular driver’s license but enough to demonstrate you can handle something faster than a regular bicycle or e-bike.

  • thomas040

    Is it possible this will rub off on New York decision makers, and change their stance?

  • Elizabeth F

    > but that’s moot if bike shops are allowed to continue to sell such models.

    That’s my point… no amount of changing the law will work if NYC can’t find an effective way to ENFORCE its laws. The way the law against selling “motorized scooters” is enforced is… occasionally, inspectors visit e-bike shops and fine them $1000 per “violation”, i.e. per “motorized scooter” they see sitting around. The Arrow shop sells only one model and keeps only a couple around at any given time; so the fines are only a minor cost of business.

    Arrow bikes work just fine with the throttle disabled. If Arrow can be “convinced” to sell their bikes in this configuration, then the problem is solved.

    > If the Arrows can modified to only go 20 mph with the throttle, and 28 mph under pedal assist, then they would be legal under the law proposed by Ramos

    They can’t. And they won’t be anyway. Because if the Ramos law comes to pass, NYC will immediately ban 28mph e-bikes from bicycle infrastructure, if not completely. The momentum for such a law will be almost unanimous among everybody, including most e-bike advocates.

  • JarekFA

    A woman who commutes to my bike room at Hudson Yards take a pedal assist bike from NJ for her commute. I think my 8.5 mile (each way) commute is kinda long (43 mins, but I have to add 7 mins because only one bike room in all of Hudson Yards is open so it’s a walk to my office) but I’m not quite ready to go electric. But man, to just think, that a pedal assist can make a NJ commute viable?!?! Sucks that the only bike crossing is the GWB though.

  • Alex

    “E-bike users can modulate their speeds the same as regular bike users if conditions dictate. ”

    From my experience, while they can modulate their speeds, they usually do not adjust their speeds when riding around regular cyclists. They have whizzed around me without even a heads up. While I usually ride in a straight and stable manner, I have seen several close calls with other cyclists not realizing an e-bike rider is about to pass them and almost getting clipped. But I suppose that is more of a courtesy thing.

    With the speed thing, I am basing it off my Strava that gives me my average travel speed, (I probably go closer to 20mph on longer stretches of road when I am not constantly stopping for traffic lights). I commute through Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan and I have generally seen myself as the faster rider than other cyclists of the road, which is why I assume most cyclists are riding closer to 10mph.

    Bikes in bike lanes are generally moving in the 10-20 mph range, and cars in travel lanes are generally moving in the 20-30mph range. If e-bikes are easily able to go 20mph with the thrust of a throttle, they can probably even faster if they incorportate their legs or use descents (I havent used an e-bike so please correct me if I am wrong about that). So I would prefer e bikes either be restricted from using bike lanes and only use regular travel lanes like a motorcycle would (but even if they were prohibited from using the bike lane, most will still likely use the bike lanes regardless to avoid traffic and then there will be an enforcement issue).

    “If we designed bicycle infrastructure with this in mind, the higher speeds of e-bikes wouldn’t matter even in crowded bike lanes because there would be ample room for safe passing. ”

    I agree, if bike infrastructure were designed better for bicycles to easily pass one another without posing a risk to one another, then allowing e-bikes shouldn’t be a problem. But the majority of protected bike infrastructure currently in place is barely wide enough to allow cyclists to safely pass one another. To now incorporate much faster and heavier bikes into this equation is likely to increase the number of bike on bike collisions.

  • AMH

    This is incredible, and so very New York.

  • Alec

    hurray for us NJ bike commuters!

  • Joe R.

    With the speed thing, I am basing it off my Strava that gives me my average travel speed, (I probably go closer to 20mph on longer stretches of road when I am not constantly stopping for traffic lights). I commute through Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan and I have generally seen myself as the faster rider than other cyclists of the road, which is why I assume most cyclists are riding closer to 10mph.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, average travel speed is always lower than cruising speed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a ride where you never need to slow or stop (almost unheard of in NYC). I typically average anywhere from 12 to 17 mph, depending upon my route and how I feel. That generally means I’m cruising at any speed from about 16 mph up to the low 20s. I got the 15 mph cruising speed for average cyclists from my observations locally. It may be lower in Manhattan protected bike lanes. I don’t know because I don’t ride in Manhattan.

    If e-bikes are easily able to go 20mph with the thrust of a throttle, they can probably even faster if they incorportate their legs or use descents (I havent used an e-bike so please correct me if I am wrong about that).

    E-bikes generally have a speed at which the assist cuts out completely. If it’s 20 mph, then to go any faster, whether downhill or on the level, means the rider must use 100% of their own power to do so. I’ve heard you can go marginally over the top speed by pedaling because the assist often tapers out over a range of 1 or 2 mph, instead of cutting off abruptly at 20 mph, but the hard fact is 20 mph e-bikes can’t really go much over 20 mph unless the rider is working as hard as they would to do the same speed on a regular bike. Harder actually because most e-bike designs have the rider in a more upright position, and use heavy, higher rolling resistance tires. I’ve passed e-bikes like they’re standing still on descents.

    So I would prefer e bikes either be restricted from using bike lanes and only use regular travel lanes like a motorcycle would .

    And I’m actually fine with that, so long as we allow e-bikes enough top speed to keep up with motor traffic. That means legalizing the 28 mph ones. I’ve actually thought of a good compromise where any e-bikes with 20 mph or lower top speeds are allowed in protected bike lanes, while those which can go faster aren’t. In truth, if the protected bike lanes are as bad as you say, I don’t see why someone on a faster e-bike would even want to ride in them.

    (but even if they were prohibited from using the bike lane, most will still likely use the bike lanes regardless to avoid traffic and then there will be an enforcement issue)

    Did you ever consider part of the reason for this might be because cops (incorrectly) ticket cyclists for not using the bike lane? If we can clarify to them that the law is designed to keep everyone else out of the bike lane, not to keep bikes in, then many e-bike users might just opt for regular travel lanes because it’s faster than substandard protected bike lanes.

    To now incorporate much faster and heavier bikes into this equation is likely to increase the number of bike on bike collisions.

    OK, but the best answer might be just banning e-bikes from the most substandard bike lanes, rather than crippling their speed for the worst-case scenario as you suggested. If we do that, then why not govern cars to 15 or 20 mph since that might be a worst-case speed for them in urban areas? Another answer, but one which would be technically difficult to implement, would be to have some way to detect if you’re in these substandard bike lanes, and if so, cap the assist speed to 15 mph. However, my guess is this either wouldn’t work all the time, and/or it might end up capping the speed by mistake in places where it’s not required. The long-term answer though is really better bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    Note that I’m personally OK with banning 28 mph e-bikes from most bicycle infrastructure, other than in cases where there are no viable alternatives (i.e. over bridges).

  • Elizabeth F

    I’ve been e-bike commuting from NJ since 2009. Yes, it’s not hard. Consider getting a folding e-bike (eg Tern Vektron). NYC law is, they have to be allowed in lobbies and passenger elevators. It will save you time vs. going to the bike room.

  • EdB

    So many interpretations…

    Under Federal Law a ‘low speed electrically assisted bicycle’ does NOT need registration and is not classed as a motor vehicle if: it has less than 1 hp, useable pedals, and a motor only speed of less than 20 mph. Such law to supercede any local or State Law. Less than 1 hp. So half a moped, way less than a motorcycle, already legal.

  • EdB

    The Police are buying and using them in New York State Joe. They consider them legal under the existing Federal Law statute (as I mentioned above – and you mention below). Agree about the stupidity of the crazy patchwork of local laws.

  • Leonard Diamond

    I’ll just point out the hypocrisy that the same organizations that lobbied for a 25mph city speed limit are now advocating for E mopeds (if you don’t have to pedal it ain’t a bicycle) that can go 30 mph (or 28). Yes I recognize the difference between a 50 pound versus a 3000 pound vehicle but speed matters regardless.

  • Joe R.

    To a first approximation death/injury potential is caused by momentum change. When two objects collide, due to conservation of momentum the lighter object suffers greater momentum change ( see here ). If a 2-ton car going 25 mph hits a stationary pedestrian weighing 150 pounds, the pedestrian essentially suffers a momentum change of nearly 48.2 mph, while the car will suffer a momentum change of only 1.8 mph. If an object of equal mass hits the pedestrian, both will suffer a momentum change of 25 mph. Since an e-bike plus rider might weigh 250 pounds, not 150, a 150 pound stationary pedestrian hit by an e-bike going 30 mph will suffer a momentum change of 37.5 mph, while the e-bike plus rider will suffer a momentum change of 7.5 mph. In other words, a e-bike going 30 mph only poses about 80% of the danger to a pedestrian compared to a 2-ton car going 25 mph. It poses the same danger to a pedestrian as a 2-ton car going only 19.5 mph.

    Also, a 30 mph e-bike can’t go over the defacto speed limit, which is the speed either a speed camera or cop will typically ticket a motorist. The defacto speed limit is 34 mph for speed cameras. Most police won’t give a ticket unless you’re going more than 5 over the limit. Either way a 28 mph e-bike can’t significantly break the speed limit, nor a my calculations demonstrate do they pose as much danger to pedestrians as motor vehicles going the same speed.

    These vehicles are much safer around pedestrians than traditional motor vehicles for other reasons as well. By virtue of their small size, the operator has more room to maneuver within a lane to avoid a potential collision. The operation also has far greater ability to see a pedestrian in the first place since their field of vision isn’t blocked by the body of the vehicle. Besides the safety benefits, there are enormous energy savings, and far less room needed for parking. To me it’s really splitting hairs because the fastest of these e-bikes can go marginally over the speed limit. Point of fact, most can’t as they’re governed to 20 mph or less, not 28 mph or 30 mph. That makes them even safer around pedestrians.

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