E-bikes, e-scooters to get green light from New York lawmakers, aide says

A vote to pass legislation that would legalize e-scooters and e-bikes across New York State is expected Wednesday.
A vote to pass legislation that would legalize e-scooters and e-bikes across New York State is expected Wednesday. Photo Credit: ASPCA/Anita Kelso Edson

E-scooters and e-bikes are finally coming to New York.

The State Legislature has reached an agreement on a bill that would legalize e-scooters and e-bikes across the state, according to an aide to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers).

A vote to pass the legislation is expected Wednesday.

While there are many provisions — including a ban of e-scooter sharing systems in Manhattan and the barring of riders under the age of 16 — the agreement represents a win for scooter companies and predominantly-immigrant delivery workers in New York City who rely on illegal e-bikes to satisfy arduous, low-paying jobs.

Do Lee of the Biking Public Project, an advocacy group for delivery workers, said the bill is not perfect, but will go a long way in ending the city’s current police crackdown against illegal e-bikes, which he and others argue is classist and harmful to immigrants.

“In terms of delivery workers, it’s a great bill. It basically is a way for us to really codify that these [bikes] are legal and should have the right to be in our streets,” said Lee. “This is the State Legislature listening to workers in a lot of ways the city has failed to do — especially the mayor.”

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, was tweaked and reintroduced Sunday night in an apparent attempt to, in part, address holdouts concerned about the prospect of scooter sharing in Manhattan.

Under current language, there would be three classes of legal electric bicycles:

  • Pedal-assist bikes capped at 20 miles per hour. These are bikes equipped with motors that are powered by pedaling.
  • Throttle-controlled bikes powered by a motor that can’t surpass 20 miles per hour.
  • Throttle-controlled bikes powered by a motor that can go up to 25 miles per hour. This third class would only be legal in New York City or, as typically worded in state legislation, any “city with a population of one million or more.”

The legislation would also legalize e-scooters capped at 20 miles per hour.

The bill sets the stage to allow for local municipalities to decide whether to launch shared networks of e-bikes and e-scooters and would give those local officials the power to craft their own regulations for operations. But the language does specifically bar New York City from launching an e-scooter sharing system in Manhattan.

The legislation would also ban the operation of all e-bikes and e-scooters on greenways, like Manhattan’s immensely popular Hudson River Greenway, and would mandate that all passengers be at least 16 years of age.

Advocates have supported the legalization of e-bikes not just to allow for their use among delivery workers, but also to expand biking as a commute choice for a wider range of trips and travelers, including riders with disabilities and families looking for a motorized boost.

Lee, a father himself, said the age provision was particularly worrisome for families looking to make trips on e-bikes, but that the overall benefits of the bill are too significant to ignore.

“I want to ride around with my kid on e-bike. From my understanding New York can take steps to allow for this, so there’s still work to be done on this issue,” he said. “And the bill does allow for municipalities to further regulate the use of e-bikes, so we’ll have to pay attention to what New York City does to also clarify their use and educate police and workers.”

Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal, who has sponsored legislation in the City Council to legalize the bikes and scooters, described the agreement as a win for social justice and environmentally-friendly travel options. 

"This law drastically improves the day-to-day lives of millions of people," Espinal said in a statement. "Whether it’s reducing their commutes using environmentally-friendly electric-scooters, or simply being able to efficiently work without receiving a burdensome fine — today is a historic moment for the commuters and workers of New York City and the state as a whole."

With Yancey Roy