License to ride: NYC pols, pedestrians push for registration and license plates for e-bikes, scooters

E-bike passing Manhattan
A delivery person riding an E-bike passes City Hall.
File Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

E-bikes and e-scooters used in New York City should be required to be registered like cars, elected officials and traffic safety advocates demanded Wednesday.

During a Park Row rally outside City Hall on Dec. 6, the group pushed for a swift hearing of a bill, introduced by Council Member Robert Holden in 2022, mandating that all legal e-mobility devices — including e-bikes and e-scooters — to be registered with the Department of Transportation and equipped with a license plate.

It has the support of 32 Council members, down from 34 after two Brooklyn officials, Sandy Nurse and Rita Joseph, withdrew support. Supporters hope the Council will take up the bill before the end of their current session, on Dec. 31.

E-mobility devices are the preferred mode of transportation for food delivery drivers and are becoming increasingly popular with everyday New Yorkers. The devices can reach speeds of about 25 mph, but safety advocates claim that some can go even faster if they’re workshopped.

Rally-goers highlighted the need for accountability of e-mobility riders, alleging that far too many of these riders ignore traffic laws, plow through red lights, and race down sidewalks at high speeds, injuring and sometimes even killing pedestrians and cyclists. 

Proponent of e-bike licensing bill, City Council Member Robert Holden
City Council Member Robert Holden speaks at a rally deamnding a hearing on Intro 0758 at a rally outside City Hall on Dec. 6, 2023. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

With congestion pricing soon to become a reality in Manhattan, concerns about the safety of e-mobility devices are rising — with many in attendance Wednesday fearful that the number of e-bikes and e-scooters on New York City’s streets will only increase as drivers look to avoid increased tolls.

When asked why Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has yet to hold a hearing on the issue, Holden said that was “the million-dollar question” and told press to “follow the money” — alluding to the fact that Lyft, which owns Citi Bike, has been an outspoken opponent against the bill. 

“You want to be able to walk the streets; you want the freedom to walk safely,” Holden said.

But Transportation Alternatives — a street safety group against the licensing bill, something which perplexed Holden — explained that, in their view, the mandate won’t be effective in avoiding collisions.

“Bike licensing isn’t a new idea, and the data’s clear: it doesn’t work,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris in a statement. “Cities from Toronto to Houston to Los Angeles have passed bike licensing laws only to repeal them as both ineffective and inexpensive. The research shows declining ridership, increased police stops in communities of color, and, ultimately, more deaths and serious injuries. Instead, New York City must advance proven solutions to address the challenges on our streets from better street design, to safer batteries and charging, to increased accountability for the delivery apps which are engaged in a race to the bottom on safety and labor.”

‘We want to prevent injuries’

Rally in Manhattan demanding e-bike licenses
Pamela Greitzer-Manasse speaks at a rally demanding a hearing on Intro 0758 at a rally outside City Hall on Dec. 6, 2023. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Janet Schroeder, co-founder of NYC E-Vehicle Safety Alliance (NYC-EVSA), stressed that the Police Department’s accident reports don’t have a category for incidents involving e-mobility devices. Therefore, she alleged, the number of e-vehicle-related accidents could be even higher than the city believes.

Schroeder shared a statement from Dr. Daniel Murphy, chief of emergency medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital. Dr. Murphy said that they were seeing consistent, steady numbers of high acuity injuries, including fatalities from e-vehicles and moped crashes, and that it was getting worse by the day.

“We want to prevent injuries, and we want to improve our quality of life, which has been greatly diminished due to the crisis that we see all around us on our streets every day,” Schroeder said. “Our agenda today is pure accountability leads to better behavior, and it makes all of us safer.” 

Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said e-mobility devices should be held to the same standards as cars.

“That standard should be the same thing whether that machine is driven by gas, or whether it’s driven electricity, or whether it’s driven by your pedals sometimes and electricity other times,” Borelli said. 

Recalling trauma

Sook Ling Lai speaks at a rally demanding a hearing on Intro 0758 at a rally outside City Hall on Dec. 6, 2023. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Sook Ling Lai, executive director of Chinatown Head Start, remembered her colleague and friend Priscilla Loke, who was killed in September after being struck by a cyclist on an electric Citi Bike. 

“At a minimum, the victims and the families need to know who the e-bike drivers are. They need to be held accountable for the accident they cause,” Ling Lai said, urging the City Council to pass the bill.

In 2022, attendee Pamela Greitzer-Manasse was hit by a moped on the Upper West Side and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Greitzer-Manasse’s right side is paralyzed.

“I remain permanently disabled, and I’ve lost my livelihood as a cellist,” she said Wednesday.

Her husband, John Manasse, said the accident put an emotional, psychological and financial burden on his family. 

“We desperately need this regulation and enforcement,” Manasse said. “The reckless driving of any two-wheeled, motorized or electric vehicle should be held to the same safety and enforcement standard as other motorists.” 

Carol Wilson was hit by a bike twice, in 2020 and 2022, while crossing the street legally. First, Wilson sustained a fractured skull. The second time, Wilson suffered a concussion and a leg injury.

Wilson said that she’s too afraid now to cross the street.

“I used to enjoy walking around our city and around my neighborhood,” Wilson said. “But now, every time I leave my apartment, I know I’m putting my life in danger because of the bikes.”

In a statement, a Council spokesperson said the bill is “going through the legislative process.

Street safety for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and all road users is paramount and a priority for the Council,” the rep said.