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Upper West Side Panel Backs Resolution to Rein in Dangerous Mopeds

Transportation committee members want the Department of Motor Vehicles, the city and the state to take a more active role against unregistered mopeds.

12:12 AM EST on December 14, 2023

Photo: Julianne Cuba|

Illegal mopeds. Photo: Julianne Cuba

An Upper West Side community board, notorious for its opposition to electric bikes and other micro-mobility devices, called on the city and state to rein in unregistered mopeds, whose recent proliferation has wreaked havoc across the city.

Members of the civic panel’s transportation committee on Tuesday night voted 8-1 to ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to take a more active role in imposing civil penalties against unregistered dealers; and for city and state officials to enforce already existing laws prohibiting dealers from selling non-street-legal mopeds. The panel also called for the city to consider creating a buy-back program for gas-powered mopeds already in circulation.

The resolution also supports legislation introduced up in Albany that seeks to eliminate the un-plated mopeds' illegality by requiring sellers of the devices to register them with the DMV before buyers could take them out of the shop.

“This is my attempt to address some of the perceived perceptions of chaos in the streets — this is a big part of it,” said Ken Coughlin, a member of Community Board 7’s transportation committee, who put forward the resolution.

Streetsblog has reported on the transition many delivery workers are making from battery-powered electric bikes to gas-powered mopeds for myriad reasons, including the rising cost of certified lithium-ion batteries that power their devices, the lack of safe charging infrastructure, the increased demands of their job on dangerous roads, and the surge of deadly fires sparked by faulty power packs. But that shift has led to its own consequences — not only are gas-powered mopeds heavier and faster than traditional e-bikes, but the vast majority of them are illegal. 

Currently, all motorized vehicles with proper vehicle identification numbers — including mopeds, cars, and trucks — must be registered before they can be legally driven, but the sellers of the vehicles are not required to register them, according to a DMV spokesperson, though reputable dealers do so as an added service. And a moped without a VIN can never be legal because it cannot be registered.

The DMV can impose civil penalties against unregistered dealers — a vast portion of moped dealers are in fact unregistered because their merchandise itself is illegal — and the agency works with law enforcement to conduct investigations against unregistered dealers of both cars and mopeds, according to the DMV spokesperson.

But many delivery workers don’t even realize they are using an illegal device because brick-and-mortar storefronts or online retailers don't tell them the rules regarding registration. The legislation introduced by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Upper West Side), and which the board is supporting, seeks to close that loophole. Assembly Member Alex Bores (D-Upper East Side) is sponsoring similar legislation.

“You have stores that know these vehicles are illegal … and they tell people, often immigrants, ‘Yeah, this is street legal, take it out,’” said Bores during an E-Vehicle Safety Alliance meeting over the summer. “We need to cut off the flow of these vehicles before they get onto these streets.”

The resolution doesn’t address every issue dangerously converging on city streets now, but it's a modest step forward, said Howard Yaruss, another member of the committee. 

“The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. This is a step in the right direction,” he said. 

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