New York state is moving swiftly to make electric scooters legal

New York Times

NEW YORK — New York state is on the verge of embracing electric scooters and bicycles in a victory for tech leaders and delivery workers who have fought for months to make the speedy devices legal.

State lawmakers reached a deal this week on electric scooters and delivery bikes. There is just one catch — scooter rental companies like Bird and Lime cannot operate in Manhattan.

The end-of-session compromise addressed safety concerns from leaders in New York City who worried that scooters could make Manhattan’s crowded streets more dangerous. It also settled a long-running debate over discrimination against immigrant delivery workers.

Scooter companies quickly praised the agreement. They already operate in dozens of cities across the country, including Los Angeles and Chicago, and had spent nearly half a million dollars on lobbying in New York this year.

“Our state leaders appear ready to enshrine e-bikes and e-scooters into state law and answer the call to bring more transportation alternatives to New Yorkers,” said Paul Steely White, the director of safety policy at Bird.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the legislation as early as Wednesday. The law, which allows cities and towns to set local rules for the devices, would take effect over the next year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he supported the idea of scooters. But he said he was worried that a fast scooter on a sidewalk in Manhattan could knock over older people.

Scooters go as fast as 15 mph. Delivery bikes travel more than 20 mph.

“I have safety concerns on the bill as drafted,” Cuomo said in a radio interview.

Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, who sponsored the bill, said it addressed the governor’s concerns because scooters would be banned on sidewalks and New York City would decide where the devices are allowed.

“We are leaving the nitty-gritty, the pieces of this that can be very hyperlocal and sensitive, we’re leaving that to cities and towns,” Ramos said.

Delivery workers and their supporters cheered the agreement. Workers have long complained about harassment by the police, including having their bikes confiscated and being forced to pay expensive fines.

Rafael Espinal, a city councilman from Brooklyn, thanked delivery workers who had “risked their livelihoods by speaking up against this injustice.”

“No longer will immigrant workers be penalized for doing their jobs,” Espinal added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who is running for president, has received criticism for targeting low-wage delivery workers. The mayor has accused them of “reckless behavior” on electric bikes and said that restaurants should find another way to deliver food.

De Blasio’s office said this week that he welcomed new rules by state lawmakers, though city officials cautioned that scooter rental companies would have to apply for authorization from the city to operate in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

“We appreciate this common-sense legislation that clarifies the rules around e-bikes on our streets,” said Seth Stein, a spokesman for de Blasio. “Safety for everyone on our roads is our priority, and we look forward to working with legislators and communities as we develop plans to implement the new law.”

New York Times

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