Many individuals now perceive the streets of New York City as a chaotic battleground for motorized vehicles competing for limited space. This perception has led New York City councillor Bob Holden to propose a new bill.
The bill aims to require license plates for stand-up scooters, electric bikes, and other currently legal motorized vehicles. Surprisingly, the bill has gained support even from individuals known for their advocacy of biking.
Bob Holden’s E-Bike Bill
Known as Intro 758, this bill was introduced by Holden towards the end of last year and quickly garnered support from anti-cycling council members.
According to the bill, every electric-assist bicycle, electric scooter, and other legal motorized vehicle must be registered with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and provided with a unique identification number and license plate.
In this context, “electric scooter” refers to the stand-up scooters that are widely used and available in the East Bronx as part of a large-scale “scooter share” program.
License Plate Registration
The responsibility to issue license plates lies solely with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, e-bikes and e-scooters cannot be registered with the DMV due to their distinct legalization process.
Holden’s bill aims to establish a brand-new registration system specifically for these legally approved vehicles. This new system may resemble the one used for police squad cars, although those plates are not traceable through the Open Data portal.
The bill also specifies that each license plate should indicate whether the electric-assist bicycle, electric scooter, or other legal motorized vehicle is being used for personal or commercial purposes.
It’s worth noting that the bill doesn’t allocate any funds for the DOT to administer this potentially extensive program or outline any penalties for cyclists who fail to register their bikes. Enforcement is also not mentioned in the bill.
At present, there is a growing trend of registering commercial e-bikes, primarily utilized by delivery workers.
However, Holden’s bill, which currently has the support of 23 sponsors, goes a step further by targeting individuals who use different legally-permitted forms of micro-mobility. This comes at a time when many politicians are concentrating on minimizing the environmental impact of transportation on roads that are largely dominated by cars.
Problems With Holden’s Bill
Similar to how helmet laws make cycling less safe by reducing its popularity, there is evidence that requiring cyclists to register their bikes also decreases bike riding. This, in turn, diminishes the positive impact of having more cyclists on the road.
Moreover, bike registration laws are seldom enforced. Selective enforcement of bike registration laws in recent years have led to allegations of anti-Black racism.
Presumably, Holden’s bill aims to register electric bike users to enhance accountability in case of an accident caused by an e-bike rider. However, it remains unclear if this bill would achieve that goal.
The bill does not address crashes. Moreover, according to state law, e-bikes are not classified as “motor vehicles,” which means that their operators are not obligated to stay at the scene of an accident. This bill would not alter that fact.
Additionally, police are still able to issue tickets to bike riders even in the absence of license plates on the rear of their two-wheelers.
Safety Activists Express Their Displeasure
Safety have expressed their objections to the bill.
StreetsPAC, a political action committee dedicated to street safety and transportation equity, sent a detailed letter highlighting their opposition. They believe that the bill is misguided and would have negative effects, such as impeding Citi Bike use and hindering the adoption of sustainable transportation modes. StreetsPAC also raised concerns about the impact on delivery workers and elderly mobility.
Executive Director Eric McClure emphasized that mandating e-bike registration would obstruct their widespread adoption, just when transitioning from cars to bikes is seen as beneficial. Additionally, StreetsPAC voiced apprehension that a registration requirement could lead to discriminatory stops of people of color.
Sara Lind, Co-Executive Director of Open Plans, focused on the significant safety issues that the bill fails to address. She described the bill as reactionary and reductive, noting that the city was unprepared for the increasing popularity of micromobility.
In an interview with Streetsblog USA, Lind stated:
Yes, most bike lanes are too narrow for fast riders, but this bill doesn’t fix that. Yes, murky point-of-sale regulations are allowing unsafe mopeds to slip through the cracks and onto our streets. Again, this bill won’t fix that … Our elected officials need to focus on ideas that will actually encourage safe e-micromobility and create a more harmonious experience on the streets.