Governor Uses ‘Deliver Justice’ Rhetoric To Tout E-Bike Legalization

Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2020 State of the State address. File photo: Darren McGee/ Governor's office
Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2020 State of the State address. File photo: Darren McGee/ Governor's office

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ALBANY — Justice delayed might soon be delivered.

Gov. Cuomo, perhaps finally heeding all the appeals to save delivery workers from Mayor de Blasio’s own version of stop-and-frisk, now sees e-bike legalization as a social justice issue.

Cuomo’s plan to legalize the throttle-controlled bikes favored by delivery workers — which would have been accomplished if he hadn’t vetoed a nearly unanimously passed bill last year — didn’t get a mention in the big dog’s 2020 State of the State speech on Monday, but it was included in a larger “Making Progress Happen” briefing book distributed to reporters.

“The patchwork of regulation that exists for e-bikes has been disproportionately enforced against delivery riders, which must end,” the document stated. “We will introduce comprehensive e-bike language that will deliver justice for delivery workers.”

“Deliver justice,” of course, is the hashtag favored by advocates for the low-paid, hard-working, mostly immigrant food schleppers.

The governor’s 2019 veto cited unfounded safety concerns and the need for a mandatory helmet requirement for e-bike and e-scooter riders. But instead of starting 2020 at the same loggerheads with legislators, it appears the governor is at least signaling a different direction this year.

The Senate bill’s main mover, State Senator Jessica Ramos, said she was cautiously optimistic.

“Our office is waiting further details on the Governor’s new e-bike legislation,” she said. “With two dozen delivery workers getting robbed of their e-bikes in recent weeks, we need to protect these hard workers. We look forward to delivering justice to all of the workers who need this law in order to perform their jobs safely and with peace of mind.”

Multiple advocates and industry insiders told Streetsblog that since his veto, the governor’s office had reached out to hear the concerns of delivery workers and their supporters. Obviously, breaths are bated, but advocates said they were heartened by the initial language in the briefing book.

“It was encouraging to see that he didn’t come outright in the written proposal and talk about helmet requirements and that he specifically talked about delivery riders,” one of the advocates told Streetsblog. “Once you set that as a goal, you have to go through some kind of legalization for [throttle-controlled] bikes. I don’t see any other way that state action could address the issue.”

Phil Jones, the government relations official for the scooter company Lime, told Streetsblog that the company “appreciated” the governor’s continuing interest in legalizing e-bikes and e-scooters.

“We will continue to work closely with his office, state leaders and advocates to finally make micromobility a reality for the millions of New Yorkers in need of sustainable transportation options,” he said.

If Cuomo builds off his own proposal last year, any e-bike rule would legalize the throttle-controlled bikes, but also allow municipalities to set their own regulations for them. In Albany for the speech (and the waters), Mayor de Blasio said that local control should be the benchmark for any bill.

Even though de Blasio has waged an endless crackdown against delivery workers, he reiterated that he favors legislation in order to “end this reality that it’s illegal even though it’s happening everywhere.” The mayor also told reporters that he doesn’t think e-bikes are safe, though he continually declines to call for speed limits and roadway restrictions for the actual vehicles that are maiming and killing New Yorkers.

“I’m focused on speed [and] I want to see those addressed and limited,” Hizzoner told reporters. “The pedal-assist [speed] is where everything should stop,” had added, referring to the legal electric bikes, such as those used by Citi Bike, that really can’t get above 20 miles per hour.

The governor, of course, famously citied the need for mandatory helmet rules in his veto message of the e-bike bill, which had passed earlier in the year with more than 90 percent of the vote in both houses. Once again, de Blasio said he shared the governor’s concern, even though many studies have found that mandatory helmet laws make cyclists less safe by causing cycling to decline, which reduces the “strength in numbers” effect.

“There’s a legitimate issue around helmets,” the mayor said. “I don’t have the perfect answer but I think it has to be resolved in any regulation.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated.