E-Bike Legalization Appears on Course, Despite Albany Chaos from Coronavirus

E-bike delivery workers rallying against NYPD enforcement in December 2017. Photo: David Meyer
E-bike delivery workers rallying against NYPD enforcement in December 2017. Photo: David Meyer

Global pandemic or not, Albany legislators are still poised to legalize e-bikes in the state budget, even as the COVID-19 crisis boots other policy initiatives from the omnibus bill.

Legislation to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters, remains in the state budget that must pass by April 1, according to State Sen. Jessica Ramos, whose legalization bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Cuomo, though the governor supports the latest effort to create clearer rules for the electric bikes preferred by delivery workers. Without such rules, e-bike riders are subject to random NYPD crackdowns, which result in onerous summonses and sometimes confiscation of their bikes.

“I’m happy we’re closer to fixing this injustice than ever before,” Ramos told Streetsblog. “I’m thankful for the moratorium on NYPD enforcement against e-bike riders [during the coronavirus crisis], but legalizing their tools for work ensures delivery riders’ safety in a new way.”

As state legislators have had to deal with a darkening economic forecast and two of their colleagues being diagnosed with virus, the normally sweeping state budget process could be shrinking in scope, according to multiple reports. But a source close to the negotiations seconded Ramos’s belief that the e-bike section will stick around.

“Things are looking positive, especially with the governor’s support for the bill,” the source said. “With the pullback from public transportation right now, people have come to see e-bikes and e-scooters as more than a novelty. We could see a smaller budget than we’re used to, but if lawmakers see merit on certain policies, they’re getting those things done, and that includes e-bikes and e-scooters.

“As cities are looking at transportation options post-pandemic, micromobility is being seen as a valuable option, especially compared to an increase in car ownership,” the source added.

Mayor de Blasio announced that the NYPD wouldn’t enforce the city’s law against e-bikes while restaurants are limited to takeout or delivery service, but advocates and legislators said that the moratorium was half a loaf when compared to the potential for legalizing the bikes entirely. Assembly Member Nily Rozic, who sponsored the Assembly version of last year’s legislation, tweeted that the enforcement freeze was “all the more reason New York needs to #DeliverJustice for delivery workers.”

The language to legalize micromobility options like e-bikes and e-scooters has not been radically changed since the governor’s office unveiled its budget in January. The language would create three classes of legal electric bikes:

  • Class 1 (pedal-assist bikes that max out at 20 miles per hour).
  • Class 2 (throttle-powered bikes that max out at 20 miles per hour)
  • Class 3 e-bikes (throttle-powered bikes that max out at 25 miles per hour) in cities of one million people or more. These are the bikes preferred by delivery workers.

Class 3 bike riders would have to wear helmets, a concession that delivery rider advocates made because commercial bike riders already have to wear helmets according to city law.

E-scooters would be limited to 15 miles per hour, and all riders between 16 and 18 years old would have to wear helmets. Like last year’s scuttled budget language, no e-scooter share system can be established in Manhattan.

Beyond the blanket ban on Manhattan e-scooter share, it will be up to cities and counties to determine how they want to establish the rules for e-scooter share and any further contours of how e-bike riders are allowed to operate their bikes. Those include areas like speed limits, sidewalk operation/parking or even opting out of allowing the bikes to operate in specific cities or counties.

If the budget language passes, e-bikes and e-scooters would be legalized statewide immediately. As for when that might be, the budget has a deadline of April 1, but it could potentially come sooner. Gov. Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday morning that he was open to legislators delivering a budget to him earlier than the April deadline.

“If they want to do it sooner, great,” Cuomo said.