Cuomo Plan Lets Localities Legalize E-Scooters and E-Bikes

The legislation would open the path for the city council to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters.

Photo: Lime Bike
Photo: Lime Bike

Gov. Cuomo has a message for New York municipalities debating whether to allow e-bikes and e-scooters on their streets: Figure it out yourselves.

The governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget creates categories for both types of currently illegal vehicles — then punts to the localities to decide whether to legalize one, both or neither.

The categories are “locally authorized motorcycles” (what non-bureaucrats commonly call e-bikes) and “locally authorized scooters,” meaning e-scooters [PDF – Page 103]. Localities could then “authorize such operation by local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation,” according the legislation.

The proposal appears to address a question looming over city policymakers ahead of a city council hearing on the topic next Wednesday: whether state action is necessary for the city council to pass a set of proposals permitting the vehicles on city streets.

A group of council members is all-in for e-bike and e-scooter legalization, but Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson have been more cautious.

For his part, Johnson has said the city lacks the authority to permit the vehicles on its own, because state law does not (yet) explicitly permit the operation of so-called “limited-used vehicles” without registration. E-bikes lack federal Vehicle Identification Numbers and therefore cannot be registered.

Cuomo’s budget speaks directly to that concern. “Locally authorized motorcycles” would be any two-wheeled saddled vehicle “other than one registered or capable of being registered … as a motorcycle or limited-use motorcycle,” the document says.

The legislation outlines a maximum size for e-scooters, which would only be allowed on streets with speed limits at or below 30 miles an hour.

E-bike speeds, meanwhile, would be legally capped at 20 miles per hour. Helmets, lights and reflective clothing would be required for any night-time use of either type of vehicles — and e-bikes would have to yield to motor cars, a prescription for disaster, given the current rules and the differing sizes of the vehicles. But the law also gives municipalities the power to “further regulate the maximum speed, time, space and manner of … operation,” so it is unclear if Cuomo’s language will carry the day.

“It’s a big budget with details on lots of topics to review, including this important one,” Johnson said in a statement to Streetsblog. “As I’ve said before, I have concerns about e-scooters and e-bikes but am open to them in some form if we can work out the legal issues and address real safety concerns.”