Kennedy: ‘Dockless’ e-bikes, e-scooters could soon roll into Capital Region

Both would be subject to vehicle and traffic law while requiring riders to follow traditional bicycling etiquette

Categories: News

I noticed a new sight on our trip to Washington, D.C., and the National Mall earlier this summer: e-bikes and e-scooters.

The latter were especially hard to miss, since there were spots around the mall where you could literally trip over them.

Knowing little about electric scooters then, I was baffled when a couple parked two near me at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, only to see them quickly whisked away by another couple. (Should I tell the second couple the e-scooters were being used? Or bolt before the first couple returned, angry that I let their rides go?)

Not to worry, e-scooters are meant to be shared: Pay for their use by the minute via a smartphone app, then end your rental when you get to your destination, where someone else will start the cycle anew.

But when their batteries run out? Those are the e-scooters left willy-nilly around town, under trees and in medians, waiting to be collected by the companies that rent them, to be recharged and placed back on the street.

D.C. was one of the first cities to allow private companies to offer dockless bicycle- and scooter-sharing services, according to the District Department of Transportation. (“Dockless” means they don’t have to be returned to a set location.) A half-dozen firms now operate in D.C., with the number of scooters and bikes reported at close to 5,000 as of May 1.

Communities in New York could be next, thanks to legislation passed by state lawmakers last month.

Awaiting action by the governor, the legislation writes e-bikes and e-scooters into vehicle and traffic law, generally limiting their speed to 20 mph. It also requires riders to follow traditional bicycle etiquette, including staying off sidewalks.

But given what I saw in D.C., I had to wonder whether a popular tourist destination like Saratoga Springs might worry about what the legislation could usher in.

Peter Martin, Saratoga’s commissioner of public safety and a member of the City Council, said no formal discussion has occurred but he expects a conversation soon on the pending state green light.

Personally, he said, he liked that e-bikes and e-scooters help facilitate travel, and he would welcome them – with city oversight as to where they can be used.

Public pedal-bike rentals in the city all use a docking system, which Martin said he’d like to see extended to e-bikes and e-scooters, so they are “not littered around our sidewalks, streets, parks and lawns.”

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, a co-sponsor of the state legislation, noted its opt-in provisions won’t force municipalities to embrace e-bikes and e-scooters if they don’t want to.

She acknowledged that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed some safety concerns with the legislation, but described herself as “hopeful” that he’ll sign it.

Local rules can counter any perceived flaws, she said, adding, “We have to make sure it’s done right.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]


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