NY’s Cuomo Announces Plan To Legalize Ebikes, Escooters

Proposal follows governor’s veto of a measure over safety concerns.

Ebike riders in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. |
Ebike riders in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. |Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

Following his veto of state ebike legislation late last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week outlined his plan to legalize electric bikes and scooters throughout the state.

“One thing is clear: We need an alternative to automobiles, to driving in New York City. The volume is paralyzing, the cost is prohibitive, it is environmentally destructive, and I believe we’re at a point where we’ll see a major transition,” Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday.

The day after Christmas, Cuomo vetoed state ebike legislation passed back in June, saying it did not go far enough in regulating speed limits or requiring helmet use, among other safety concerns.

Cuomo’s proposal calls for establishing three classes of ebikes: Class 1, pedal assist up to 20 mph; Class 2, throttle assist up to 20 mph; and Class 3, throttle assist up to 25 mph, with those ebikes allowed only in Manhattan. The last classification differs from laws passed in more than 20 states—and backed by bicycle industry group PeopleForBikes—stating that Class 3 bikes are pedal assist only with a top assisted speed of 28 mph. Cuomo made no mention of that widely available type of ebike during his press conference.

The governor’s proposal also calls for the following:

  • Ebike and escooter users must be at least 16 years old.
  • Ebikes and escooters are banned are sidewalks except for parking.
  • Ebikes and escooters are allowed only on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less.
  • Lights are required on both ebikes and escooters.
  • Escooter users under age 18 must wear a helmet.
  • Class 3 ebike users must wear a helmet.
  • Local governments can opt out of the rules or amend them.

Cuomo called on state lawmakers to pass the measure ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.

“This is a statewide system that provides clarity for everyone. And it’s important for everyone. It’s especially important for immigrant delivery workers, who in many cases have been subjected to arbitrary enforcement given the vagary of the laws and regulations. And it has posed substantial hardship on many delivery workers, who are in the least powerful position to deal with this,” Cuomo said, citing steep fines and ebike confiscations under New York City’s ebike enforcement.

“We think now with these laws in place, everybody will know the rules of the road, everybody will know what to follow, police officers will know what to enforce, and we believe the clarity will be a major plus,” Cuomo added.

The governor said the proposed legislation was a collaborative effort, with input and assistance from organizations including the Asian American Federation (representing New York’s Asian American and Latino delivery workers), Transportation Alternatives, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Legal Aid Society, and the Biking Public Project.

Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said: “Like you (Gov. Cuomo), we believe that New York needs to move at the speed of an ebike and not an SUV stuck in Midtown traffic. Today we advance another powerful tool in New York’s arsenal of making progress happen. Ebikes and escooters offer safe, equitable, and sustainable transportation alternatives, they help to solve first- and last-mile problems for New Yorkers, and they make commuting even upwards of 10 miles a reality for many individuals who do want to get out of their cars.”

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, said: “This legislation will finally give (delivery workers) the justice they deserve by legalizing ebikes in a pragmatic and safe way. Delivery workers can get back to work with the assurance they are working within the boundaries of the law.”