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New York is keeping e-bikes illegal, and gig workers are fuming

New York is keeping e-bikes illegal, and gig workers are fuming
[Photo: Daniel von Appen/Unsplash]

Cycling can be a fantastic way to exercise, sight-see, or burn calories. But for many food delivery drivers and other gig workers, biking is also a practical requirement for their job—one they’d like some help with. That remains a problem in New York City, however, where people who use electric scooters and some electric bikes are subject to a $500 fine and confiscations. While the popularity of e-scooters and e-bikes is exploding in cities across the United States and spreading rapidly in Europe, the Empire State seems woefully behind the times.

The state legislature tried to change all that in June, when overwhelming majorities in both the Assembly and Senate approved a bill that would have granted cities the right to make their own rules for both modes of transportation. But on December 26, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill, arguing that it didn’t contain enough safety measures, such as a requirement that riders wear helmets.

That means a fragmented policy on electric vehicles in New York City. In 2018, the government approved the use of bikes that provide an electric assist while you pedal (like those provided by Uber subsidiary Jump). But throttle-controlled e-bikes, and all electric scooters, are banned under state law.

The measure to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes had broad support from activists, such as the 100,000-member New York City organization Transit Alternatives, and companies that provide e-vehicles, such as Bird and Lime. Responding to the veto, Transit Alternatives issued a statement that read, in part, “Governor Cuomo, a supposed champion for immigrants and the working poor, has failed to protect 40,000 low-wage, mostly immigrant workers in New York.”

The bill had more than enough support for a vote to override the veto, if the legislature were still in session. Instead, the fight will have to be revived next year—something that Cuomo says he welcomes. “There is no need for us to choose between legalizing e-bikes and safety, and I will propose a bill that does both on January 8,” the governor tweeted on Thursday evening.

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