The e-mobility revolution is here — or arriving, at 15-20 mph, fairly soon, with any luck.
With its new push to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes, the City Council could create entirely new forms of transport for New York’s beleaguered commuters. It’s long overdue.
Much of the coverage of Wednesday’s bill introduction will likely focus on legislation to legalize motorized scooters, the two-wheeled, stand-up variety. But that’s just the shiny object misappropriating our attention. The e-scooter bill is ostensibly a no-brainer, especially considering how unregulated scooter share companies, pumped up with venture capital money, have been dumping their wares, Uber-style, in many American cities.
The Council bill would regulate the companies and set up guidelines for how they can operate. That’s common sense in a city where roadways, sidewalks and other public space are so congested. E-scooters have proven extremely popular for so-called “last-mile/first-mile” travel — to and from a subway station, for example. Commuters stranded in transit deserts will love them. I even had an old lady in Bedford-Stuyvesant say she can’t wait to use them.
The far more meaningful legislation seeks to legalize a form of e-bike popular with the city’s delivery workers — who are currently the subject of a misguided, hypocritical and unjust crackdown by Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD.
Delivery workers favor throttle-controlled e-bikes because they are inexpensive. But over the summer, the de Blasio administration legalized the type of e-bikes whose electric boost is initiated via the pedals instead of a switch on the handlebars. That move came as the city was encouraging major bike share companies, including Citi Bike, Jump and Lime, to add pedal-assist e-bikes to their fleets and neighborhood pilot programs.
People love those e-bikes — so much so that now pedal-assist bikes are seen as a key mitigation during next year’s L-train shutdown. Meanwhile, takeout food delivery men, almost all recent immigrants, are still getting slapped with $500 tickets and having their livelihoods confiscated by cops — all for the “crime” of providing a service that more and more New Yorkers want: food delivered quickly.
That’s the hypocrisy and injustice of de Blasio’s e-bike double-standard. But it’s also misguided because e-bikes can transform this city. Perhaps this point will be lost on a mayor who is driven from his mansion to his gym, but commuters need options beyond crowded subways and buses that are constantly delayed by illegally parked drivers.
Few people would take a regular Citi Bike from Windsor Terrace, where I live, to Midtown. But on an electric-assist Citi Bike, the nine-mile trip takes about 30 minutes — and it’s more pleasurable than the subway. Fancy bike shops sell pedal-assist e-bikes for thousands of dollars — but why should only the elite (or Citi Bike members lucky enough to snare one of the five or six e-bikes available at any given time) get such a great commute? And why should delivery workers, who wouldn’t even exist if well-to-do people weren’t so addicted to Seamless, be subject to fines for doing their job?
The mayor has justified the crackdown on the grounds that throttle-controlled e-bikes are less safe than pedal-assist e-bikes, but neither he nor the NYPD has ever presented data to back up that specious claim.
The Council bill would right this wrong — and jumpstart a transportation revolution. Next up? More protected bike lanes to handle all the e-scooters and bicyclists.