Wheel Estate: City Council Tries to Ban Electric Bikes With Bill That Just Adds Confusion

Hey, remember all the crazy state, federal, and city statutes regarding the definition of an electric bicycle? Yeah, we don’t

Banning e bikes? Same old story.
Banning e bikes? Same old story.

Hey, remember all the crazy state, federal, and city statutes regarding the definition of an electric bicycle? Yeah, we don’t want to delve into that particularly confusing string again either–just thinking about that whole “e bike or scooter” controversy makes us want to stick our mouth around an exhaust pipe–but sadly, we must. As New York City Council decided to “crack down” on ebikes with three bills that would increase fines and illiminate loopholes that have kept e bikes on the streets as well as create an “interactive crime map” for citizens with nothing better to do, the issue is back on the docket.

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Only problem? Neither bill, which Mayor Bloomberg signed yesterday, gets to the real problem. Let’s take a look.

From the press release:

New York, NY – Today, the Council will vote to make it easier for the City to carry out a ban on electric bicycles, or “e-bikes,” by creating penalties and removing loopholes in City law that have made enforcement difficult.

The Council will also vote on a bill to require the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to create and maintain a public interactive crime map.

While e-bikes are already illegal in the city, Council legislation will serve to strengthen the e-bike ban. The first bill, Intro 1030 sponsored by Council Member Jessica Lappin, would create civil penalties of $100 for businesses that have e-bikes on the premises, and $250 for subsequent violations. In addition, the legislation would hold business owners responsible for any penalties incurred by employees caught using e-bikes while making deliveries for the business.

A second bill, Intro1026 sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, would clarify the definition of a motor scooter in the City’s Administrative Code. Current regulations create a loophole for motor scooters that cannot exceed 15 miles per hour, creating a challenge for the NYPD to enforce the e-bike ban. In addition, the legislation would make it easier for law enforcement to keep an impounded vehicle by requiring that all civil penalties in addition to fines be paid prior to release of the vehicle to its owner.

So, several things:
1. It’s never been clear that e bikes are illegal in New York City, since they had just been lumped in with scooters when they were made illegal. From our feature on this non-troversy:

“New York City has a law—and again I only found this because I was researching it for nine months, but New York City considers this same bike to be a scooter,” he said. “And if a scooter has a top speed of 15 mph or less it’s legal, but otherwise you are breaking the law [and] can get a hefty fine.” (Said Juan Martinez, general counsel and policy analyst for the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives.)

So when is an e-bike not a scooter? Well, never. Not all motorized scooters are electric bikes, but all electric bikes are motorized scooters. Got it? Adding a further layer of confusion is the fact that some motorized scooters are legal in New York City (provided their top speed is 15 mph), while all electric bikes are verboten, even though the law was originally passed to ban motorized scooters, not e-bikes.

So no, e bikes never benefitted from the “loophole” of being considered a scooter. Having some similarities to a scooter is the entire problem with electronic bike laws in NYC.

2. Good luck, Councilwoman Lapin, trying to get NYPD to get onboard with enforcing the e ban, as this is their official comment on the matter:

When we called a representative from the NYPD for comment, he confirmed that the department doesn’t keep special statistics on the types of vehicles that are fined, citing the complexity of the data. “We’d have to have special categories, like fines for every Honda car. There would be a bazillion categories,” he said.

The NYPD representative was also unable to tell The Observer whether the city has fined any stores for selling e-bikes, or even if doing so was in itself an illegal activity. “That would be a question for Consumer Affairs,” we were told.

Not to mention that it’s already very hard to tell the difference between an e bike and a regular bike, or an e bike and a Vespa. And unless the law also changes on the distribution side, it would also still be legal to sell the e bikes, according to Consumer Affairs:
Senior communications officer Abbie Looten told The Observer that her office doesn’t count the electronic bikes sold in the city or keep tabs on the stores selling the bikes. Neither does the DOT, since the half-bike, half-scooter hybrids can’t be registered.

Good luck trying to untangle this headache in order to get those bills passed. We wish you the best of luck, because you’re going to need it.

Wheel Estate: City Council Tries to Ban Electric Bikes With Bill That Just Adds Confusion