Companies See New York as Scooter Haven; NYC Says Not So Fast

By Hailey Waller | June 6, 2019

Four companies – Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., Bird Rides Inc. and Lime – are aggressively lobbying in New York to legalize electric scooters, considered both perilous play-rides of the well-off and one of many alternative transportation solutions.

They’re pouring in at least tens of thousands of dollars a month to New York City and Albany, according to filings, even though key lawmakers are opposed and legalization nowhere near. But there are advantages to being among the first in a city that could be a mecca for scooters – and where “micro-transport” is already spreading despite lawmakers’ reluctance to act.

“NYC is a beacon for e-scooters,” said Phil Jones, Lime’s East Coast senior director for government relations. “The most public transportation trips happen in NYC, so Lime being in NYC speaks to the first mile, last mile solution.”

The companies already operate in about 100 cities worldwide, some legally, some not. New York is a gray zone. Technically illegal, two-wheeled electric vehicles already buzz in numbers through the city’s crowded streets, sidewalks and bike lanes.

No Action Near

The decision on legality belongs first to state lawmakers in Albany. The legislative session ends in June, with no action in sight. A bill was proposed in April by state Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic to allow municipalities to determine the rules and regulations of operating e-scooters – and their counterparts, e-bikes.

That would put the ball in New York City’s court and makes sure of equal consideration for scooters and bikes.

A prevailing prejudice is that e-scooters are associated with wealthy people and the cheaper throttle bikes with immigrants, many of whom take on jobs as delivery people where they’re paid by the number of deliveries. Scooters are seen more as luxuries. BMW just introduced an $890 model, as scooters became legal on German streets.

“The motivation is to protect immigrant workers’ job security and to support micro-mobility,” said a spokeswoman for Rozic.

Safety Fears

The main argument against scooters coming to New York City is safety. National data on crashes are hard to come by. In January, Consumer Reports found more than 1,500 scooter-involved injuries over the past year after contacting hospitals in nearly 50 cities where either Bird or Lime operates.

“Two to three scooter injuries a day is still where we are,” says Wally Ghurabi, director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center. His colleagues published a report in January finding that about 250 people were treated over a one-year period for e-scooter-related injuries in hospitals in Southern California, where electric scooters are popular.

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