New York Legalizes E-Bikes and Scooters Amid Pandemic

New York has legalized electric bikes and scooters, as revealed when the State issued its budget on April 1 for Fiscal Year 2021. This decision is a victory for delivery riders, especially in New York City.

The budget language closely resembled that in the bill passed by New York State Legislature, but vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The new budget now legalizes e-bikes and scooters but gives local authorities the ability to decide how to regulate the vehicles in their area. Under the plan, throttle-based e-bikes are permitted but dockless scooter companies would need to obtain permission from local authorities before disseminating their fleets. Scooters will remain illegal in Manhattan, but that decision could be overruled. They are expected to be tested in Brooklyn and Queens.

There are three classifications of e-bikes: “pedal-assisted with no throttle”; “throttle-assisted with a maximum speed of 20 mph”; and “throttle-powered with a maximum speed of 25 mph.” Additionally, “E-scooters would be capped at 15 mph, and riders under 18 years of age would be required to wear a helmet.” Helmets will also be required for all using throttle-powered e-bikes. An e-biker that is riding while intoxicated could face up to a $500 fine and/or 15 days in jail, although the State has no laws for riding a regular pedal bike while intoxicated. The e-bikes and scooters are prohibited from the Hudson River Park Greenway. 

This is a victory for delivery workers and immigrant rights groups, who have been fighting to get the vehicles legalized for almost ten years. Pedal-assisted e-bikes, like the ones Citi Bike introduced, were already legal to ride in New York, however, throttle-powered bikes were illegal and subject to fines and confiscation.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has cracked down on e-bikes, claiming his actions were taken out of concern for safety. StreetsBlog NYC noted that rules were harsher for violating laws while riding an e-bike. For example, “City Council members representing the posh Upper East Side spent 2012 attempting to raise the fine for riding an e-bike from $500 to $1,000 and creating a $900 fine for running a red light on an e-bike (currently $190 for cars and all bikes).”

E-bike sales have been growing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Yorkers living under shelter-in-place orders are reconsidering their transportation and looking for ways to get around while still practicing social distancing, but without driving. Mayor de Blasio stated that the city was halting police confiscation and ticketing of e-bikes for delivery workers after he urged people to not use public transportation. Meanwhile, some dockless scooter companies are struggling during this time with many pulling their fleets off the streets and some facing layoffs.