The New York City Council voted on Thursday to legalize electric bikes and scooters citywide and create a pilot program that would bring a shared e-scooter program to neighborhoods underserved by public transit. State lawmakers approved the legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters statewide in April, leaving the decision to local officials on how to regulate the vehicles.
Sponsored by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the bills eliminate local restrictions on certain e-bikes with top speeds of 25 miles per hour and e-scooters with top speeds under 20 miles per hour. The penalty for operating a prohibited device has been reduced from $500 to $250.
Immigrant groups and transportation advocates have long pushed the city to legalize e-bikes, which are used by delivery workers, a majority who are immigrants of color. When the state ordered restaurants and bars to close amid the coronavirus pandemic, delivery workers were considered essential and Mayor Bill de Blasio suspended enforcement.
“These bills will help end the criminalization of food delivery workers who have pioneered an industry with nimble, safe and sustainable e-bikes, and create affordable travel alternatives for NYers as our city reopens,” Marco Conner, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement. “Work remains for the City to address lingering elements of state law, including ensuring all e-bike owners can access manufacturer labels to bring existing e-bikes into compliance, but today is an important first step towards a safer, greener and more just city.”
The city will also roll out a shared electric scooter pilot program next spring that will allow companies to operate in all boroughs but Manhattan, with the focus on neighborhoods lacking transit options and underserved by existing share programs like Citi Bike and Revel. Under the legislation, e-scooter operators will be required to provide a scooter option for those with disabilities.
“By legalizing e-scooters and e-bikes, while mandating adherence to state and local safety laws, we are meeting the needs of people in transit deserts, people not served by bike-share programs, people who need e-bikes and scooters for work and reducing the number of cars on our streets,” Cabrera said in a press release.
“The e-scooter pilot will allow us to develop the best practices for scooter-share programs in underserved communities with options for people with disabilities. Over the past year and a half, we’ve heard the concerns of diverse constituencies, including the delivery workers who have kept people fed during the coronavirus pandemic.”
De Blasio on Thursday said he plans to sign the bills into law, calling it the “right thing to do.”
“It’s particularly important that I signed these bills now because people need more safe ways to get around and more options in light of the pandemic,” the mayor said. “People need their livelihoods. So for delivery folks and other folks who use those as part of their work, they need to be able to do that legally.”
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