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Jersey Lawmakers Pass Proposed Micromobility Insurance Law With Vague Promise to Fix It

Advocates are adamantly opposed to Sen. Nicolas Scutari's bill, fearing it would undermine the goals of reducing car dependency and carbon emissions. And it's expensive.

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A New Jersey Senate committee on Thursday passed what even supporters call a flawed bill that would require micro-mobility users to carry a type of liability insurance that doesn't even exist yet — with lawmakers holding their nose and promising the final proposal will be heavily amended before passing.

The Senate's Transportation Committee advanced S2292, which would require riders of low-speed electric bikes and e-scooters to register their vehicles with the state — and carry liability insurance to cover themselves and anyone else in the event of a crash. But the majority agreed that the bill must first be amended to address major concerns from advocates and elected officials before coming to a final vote on the floor — not least of which is the kind of insurance envisioned in the legislation has not yet been written.

Advocates are adamantly opposed to Senate President Nicolas Scutari's bill, fearing it would undermine the goals of reducing car dependency and carbon emissions, and be an expensive and arduous impediment for those who rely on cheaper modes of transportation.

“I don't think anybody supports the bill exactly as it's presently written. The Senate president is well aware of the input and is working on amendments. And we'll meet with the advocates in between now and as it goes forward,” the Transportation Committee Chair Patrick Diegnan said at the Thursday morning hearing. “He realizes this needs work.”

New Jersey is not the only municipality attempting to introduce more legal barriers for using electric-powered two-wheeled devices, but it is one of the few. California is similarly considering a bill that would require e-bike riders to carry a driver's license or a state-issued ID with a license waiver. And on the other side of the Hudson River in the five boroughs, Queens Council Member Bob Holden introduced a widely criticized and controversial bill that would require e-bikers to secure licenses and a new kind of plate that also doesn't exist yet.

But advocates are concerned that if the one proposed in the Garden State does become law, it could provide a model for anti-bike revanchists around the country, including in the Big Apple, where a new group called the NYC E-Vehicle Safety Alliance is actively pushing for e-bike crackdowns while ignoring the death and injury toll from automobiles.

“It really will reduce our current efforts to reduce road crashes by pushing more people to continue driving cars,” said Debra Kagan, the executive director of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, adding that the Jersey effort would be the first in the country.

New Jersey currently requires licenses and registration for the owners of Class 3 e-bikes, which can go up to 28 miles an hour. But Class 1 and 2 bikes, which are the focus of the new bill, are already capped at 20 mph, as are most e-kick-scooters, whose riders would also be required to carry such insurance.

The bill would also affect users of pedal-assist electric bikes operated by Citi Bike, which runs bike-share programs in both New Jersey and New York City and testified against the legislation.

"We have two principal concerns: One is cost, the other is operational complexity. The first related to cost — it's impossible to quantify exactly how much this policy will cost because the insurance products required doesn't yet exist on the marketplace," said Miller Nuttle, the company's director of transit and micro-mobility policy, who added that those costs will then get passed onto users.

And Sen. Latham Tiver agreed with his colleagues and the advocates, honoring the chair’s request to pass it out of committee, but work together to draft a better bill.

“I'm going to vote yes to get this out of committee. But it's obvious that there's a lot of work to be done on this bill,” said Tiver during the hearing. "And I'm kind of curious to see what the amendments are going to be."

He did not respond to requests for comment about how he’d like to see the legislation changed. Nor did Diegnan or Scutari respond to requests for comment.

Outside of the committee room, the legislation has galvanized a national coalition of sustainability groups, which sent a group missive to Scutari earlier this month.

"This bill works against many of New Jersey’s own policy goals," stated the letter, signed by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Regional Plan Association, Bike Hoboken, League of American Bicyclists, Citi Bike, PeopleForBikes, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and others.

The groups' main issues were equity, pollution and road violence.

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