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Manhattan Panel Pans City Council E-Bike Registration Bill

A Manhattan community board is the first to take up a controversial bill that would require licensing and registration for e-bikes. And it rejected it.

A Manhattan civic panel is the first to take up Queens Council Member Bob Holden’s bill that would require license and registration for all types of e-bikes. Photo: Josh Katz

A Manhattan committee came out swinging against a controversial bill to require licensing and registration for all e-bikes, calling the legislation “harmful” and “unnecessarily punitive” in a resolution on Monday night.

The transportation committee of Community Board 6, which covers Manhattan between 14th and 59th Streets from the East River to Lexington Avenue, expressed its resounding opposition to the proposal — which has the support of a majority of City Council members — by an 8-1 vote.

“This proposal, as it stands, would have negative impacts on all cyclists, some of which have strong potential to be unnecessarily punitive and ill-suited to some of the devices covered, and some of which would impact users of bicycles not covered by the legislation,” the approved resolution states.

The proposed Council bill — drafted by Queens Council Member Bob Holden and backed by 32 co-sponsors — states that, "Every bicycle with electric assist, electric scooter and other legal motorized vehicle shall be registered with the [city] and provided a distinctive identification number and a license plate corresponding to that distinctive identification number." It does not at all address illegal mopeds, which critics say have caused trepidation on city streets.

The bill also fails to address a legal loophole that allows moped buyers to leave the shop without first registering their devices, the committee members noted.

“There is no part of this legislation that compels point-of-sale registration, which would ease burdens on owners and avoid widespread issues of non-compliance,” the resolution states.

Brooklyn Council Member Rita Joseph recently signed onto the bill only to remove her name amid criticism. Joseph's support would have triggered a Council rule that requires a hearing on any legislation with 34 or more co-sponsors. Her office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Two of the three local pols representing CB6 back the registration requirement, including Council Members Keith Powers and Julie Menin. Council Member Carlina Rivera has not signed on. Neither Powers nor Menin immediately responded to requests for comment. Holden also did not respond to a request for comment on the rejection of his bill.

CB6 members on Monday called the proposal regressive and ineffective except as an attempt to pacify the reactionary response to the rise of micro-mobility.

“I think they're trying to resolve a perception problem and what they perceive as a political problem but it's not realistic in the approach,” said Bea Disman, a member of the committee, during the meeting.

Two of the main concerns people have — biking on the sidewalk and unregistered mopeds — are already illegal, the committee's vice-chair noted.

“All legislation has unintended consequences. This one is not remotely clear what the intended consequences are,” said Gabriel Turzo.

“I will actually let the mask slip a little bit, this is grievance politics pretending to be public policy and we should not treat it as a good faith attempt to solve an actual problem.”

Street safety advocates have been struggling to bridge the need for safety while also looking at the bigger picture of why city streets seem to feel more dangerous to some, even as pedestrian fatalities are dropping. But activists do not see Holden's bill as the answer due to its many holes.

"What would this bill mean for those who use their devices for work? Would they now need to get a commercial drivers license (something unavailable to undocumented workers)?" asked Sara Lind of the livable streets group Open Plans (a sister organization to Streetsblog).

"How would the city ensure that current e-bike owners know that they now have to get a license for the bike they bought when this requirement didn’t exist?" she continued rhetorically. "A license issued by DOT cannot be used for camera-based enforcement (red light or speed cameras), but an actual DMV-issued license would require state action, not a City Council bill. And police can already issue tickets to e-bike riders who break laws, so how does a license plate help with enforcement?"

The full board will vote on the committee's resolution on Wednesday. Click here for information about how to attend or watch the meeting.

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