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Editorial: No rush on e-scooters

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should take care before signing legislation approved by lawmakers in June to legalize both e-scooter and e-bike sharing services.

The “micromobility revolution” should not be stopped in New York State or Buffalo. But the governor should resist pressure from lawmakers or lobbyists. It is true that these devices, which are common on the nation’s big-city streets, seem both fun and potentially useful in closing the “last mile” gap not covered by public transportation. But there is also something to say about safety. Have you ever seen someone riding one of these devices while listening to music on an MP3 player and staring at a smartphone?

These electric motorized scooters, part of the burgeoning sharing economy, look cool. Feel cool. But what about the details? That’s what the governor wants to know. He might make a deal with lawmakers to amend the bill at the start of the 2020 session to address his concerns. Right now, Cuomo is acting as chief skeptic, and that approach, in this situation, best serves the state’s citizens.

The pending legislation would permit e-scooter and e-bike sharing services statewide. The mobile app-activated devices charge users on a per-minute basis and advocates claim they offer a cheaper alternative to cars, reduce carbon emissions and serve as a “last-mile” option. All are true.

But accidents and some deaths have been recorded. Many riders do not wear helmets. It can be scary, not just for those on e-scooters, which can top 20 mph, but for motorists confronted with them. What about people getting drunk at bars or parties and climbing onto a scooter? Oregon requires helmets for e-scooter users. Should New York?

It’s not just streets, but sidewalks where some e-scooters have been a menace, either due to daredevil riders or because the devices have been left all over and everywhere, even though some companies pay incentives to the public to collect them.
The deadline for the governor to decide is Dec. 31 and lobbyists are nervous. The big push is for New York City, although the pending legislation bans the devices in an already-congested Manhattan. The measure would allow for local say, requiring communities that want to allow them to “opt in” through a vote by their governing board.

The Buffalo Common Council in September passed a resolution asking city agencies to explore how e-scooter and e-bicycle programs might work. Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is urging the governor to sign the bill.

The e-scooter sharing industry is spending plenty on the effort. A recent News article indicated California-based Bird spent $23,000 on two lobbying firms in September and October. Neutron Holdings, or “Lime,” also based in California, spent $42,000 during the same period.

Others lobbying the governor are San Francisco-based Spin, now owned by Ford Motor Co., which spent $22,000, and Skip Transport, also out of San Francisco, which spent $8,000 in September and October. Lyft and Uber both reported undisclosed amounts of lobbying expenses.

E-scooters and e-bike sharing services have become a “thing” in many big cities and they seem here to stay. But questions remain and the governor should take his time before putting pen to paper. This will happen, but the safety of New Yorkers must play an important role in the final bill.

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