If I were a local municipal leader, I’d put e-bike/e-scooter regulations near the top of my to-do list for 2020.
New York came close to legalizing the electric-motor devices last year – seen as having a small role in combating street-clogging cars – before Gov. Andrew Cuomo hit the brakes in a last-minute veto just after Christmas.
The governor called the legislation “fatally flawed,” citing safety requirements like helmets that were lost as negotiations progressed. While many griped at his veto, the governor promised in his State of the State address last week to resurrect the issue this legislative session.
Where do municipalities come in? While the vetoed legislation would have made e-bikes and e-scooters legal statewide, localities would have had the authority to regulate how they could be used within city, town and village borders – or to keep them out altogether.
Since the legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and the Assembly (with one sponsor vowing to keep bringing a bill back year after year until it is signed into law), municipalities would be wise to start thinking about oversight.
Otherwise, they could be swamped by a tidal wave of vendor interest once the state gives the green light to legalization.
Consulting firm Deloitte, in a piece last spring on the rapid growth of e-bike and e-scooter “micromobility,” painted many localities as having a deja vu moment: caught again without policies in place, just as they had been when ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene.
A visit last summer to Washington, D.C., showed me the popularity of the devices, which, because they are “dockless,” can be left anywhere – and are. But aside from tourists, denizens use them too, for errands, for instance, or to get to public transit stops.
In Arlington, Va., a busy commercial/residential/government hub adjacent to D.C., the county conducted a nine-month study before adopting a permit system last fall for micromobility vendors. (Unlike the vetoed New York legislation, Virginia law prohibits municipalities from banning e-bikes and e-scooters, so locales have been writing rules as the vendors descend.)
The study showed that 90 percent of the trips taken during the period covered less than two miles and that one-third of e-scooter riders used the device instead of a car.
Interestingly, Arlington decided to allow e-scooters and e-bikes on sidewalks (at reduced speeds), after recognizing that some traffic-heavy streets lacked protected bike lanes to separate them from cars.
One of the prime recommendations from the study suggested further monitoring of “equity expectations” – making sure that e-bikes and e-scooters are deployed to lower-income areas where they could help increase mobility among residents lacking cars or access to public transit.
Questions even have to be asked about the potential drawbacks of needing smartphones to unlock the devices and credit cards to pay for the trips, the study said.
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]