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OPINION: Reject New Jersey’s Misguided War on E-Bikes

A new bill in New Jersey would make owning an e-bike as costly as buying a new vehicle every single year.

Photo: Josh Katz

Tri-state area lawmakers appear intent on waging a war against electric bikes, a move that threatens to undermine progress towards safer, more sustainable, and equitable transportation in the region. Their latest weapon of choice? Proposed legislation to mandate registration and insurance for users of low-speed e-bikes and e-scooters.

In practice, these expensive new fees and insurance premiums would make owning an e-bike as costly as buying a new vehicle every single year.

While a bill to do this in New York State is unlikely to pass this year, a similar proposal in New Jersey has more momentum, thanks to the sponsorship of Senate Majority Leader Nicholas Scutari. Masquerading as a safety measure, this legislation is a misguided attempt to solve a nonexistent problem while ignoring the real dangers on our streets and the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities.

First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room: cars. Automobiles are the overwhelming cause of fatal and serious injury crashes on our roads, not e-bikes. In 2023 alone, motor vehicles were involved in every single one of the 608 traffic deaths in New Jersey. Yet, instead of focusing on curbing the unsafe roadway and vehicle design features that fuel this carnage, lawmakers have chosen to target a mode of transportation that poses minimal risk to others. Fixated on e-bikes and scooters, they are creating a dangerous distraction from the real threat and shifting the burden of responsibility onto the victims of these crashes.

Besides the auto industry, the only other winners in this scenario may be trial lawyers who stand to gain new opportunities to pursue litigation. Everyone else loses. Even the insurance industry, which would ostensibly see an influx of thousands of new paying customers, strongly opposes the legislation, citing the lack of a suitable coverage policy. It’s hard to imagine any constituent celebrating longer commutes, dirtier air, more traffic crashes, and higher insurance costs. And yet here we are.

The truth is, e-bikes and scooters have become a lifeline for many, especially those who cannot afford or are unable to drive a car. Low-income individuals, communities of color, and those with limited English proficiency disproportionately rely on these affordable and accessible modes of transportation. Forcing them to pay for expensive insurance premiums and navigate new bureaucratic red tape is a slap in the face to those already struggling to make ends meet. Instead of supporting these individuals in their efforts to get to work, school, or the grocery store, this bill would effectively price them out of a safe and sustainable transportation option.

But the consequences of this misguided legislation go beyond financial burdens. It also threatens to increase interactions between e-bike riders and law enforcement, a prospect that is particularly worrisome for communities of color already disproportionately targeted by police. The additional layer of regulation creates opportunities for unwarranted stops, searches, and fines, further marginalizing and criminalizing these communities. These onerous regulations could foster a toxic climate of fear and resentment, further eroding the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

E-bike supporters rallying in Jersey City last week.Photo via Tri-State Transportation Campaign

This bill also undermines the region’s ambitious environmental goals. New Jersey has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and shifting to a cleaner, greener economy. E-bikes are a crucial part of this transition, offering an efficient and sustainable alternative to gas-guzzling automobiles. They require no gasoline, produce zero emissions, and take up far less space than cars, easing congestion and reducing our carbon footprint. Yet, instead of incentivizing their use, New Jersey lawmakers are proposing to make them more expensive and difficult to own, hindering the state's progress toward a carbon-free future.

The proposed legislation is as misguided as it is short-sighted. As cities around the world grapple with the challenges of climate change, congestion, and air pollution, they are increasingly turning to micromobility solutions like e-bikes and scooters. These vehicles offer a way to reduce traffic, improve air quality, and create more livable cities.

Instead of waging a war on e-bikes, states should be embracing them as a key component of a safer, more equitable, and sustainable transportation system. This means investing in protected bike lanes, safer intersections, and public transit infrastructure that makes it easier and more appealing for everyone to get around without conflict, and without relying on a personal vehicle. It means educating drivers about how to safely share the road with cyclists and e-bike riders. And it means promoting e-bike ownership through incentives like rebates, tax credits, and public awareness campaigns.

It’s time for lawmakers to abandon their misguided war on e-bikes and embrace a future where everyone can safely and affordably access all the transportation options they need. It can be achieved by rejecting burdensome insurance requirements, and instead focusing on real solutions that promote equity, sustainability, and safety for all road users. The future of transportation in our region depends on it.

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