Electric Currents

Pity the NYPD

Aug 06, 2015

The city of New York, all five sprawling boroughs, has ordered its police department to crackdown on e-bike riders and the businesses who employ them. Lots of luck with that!

NYC motorists on electric mopeds

Question: What is the motorist riding in the above picture?

A. Bicycle
B. Moped
C. Motor Scooter
D. E-Bike

If you know the answer, then you're probably more knowledgeable than the folks calling the shoots at New York City Hall who have just ordered the men and women in blue to start issuing citations and confiscations of anyone caught riding an 'electric bicycle' or e-bike. I don't envy the officers this assignment, which the city has been trying to enforce for more than a decade with little success: e-bikes are still being sold, serviced and ridden all across the 'Big Apple.'

Reports the New York Daily News, "Cops have been given orders on how to issue tickets and seize the scooters seen buzzing up and down city streets and sidewalks. The goal is to increase 'public safety by enforcing laws pertaining to the use of motorized scooters/electric bikes,' the NYPD documents show."

We can lay some of the blame on Congress (who else?) for incorporating language into the Consumer Product Safety Commission law that defines what is an e-bike: a bicycle with an electric motor not exceeding 750W (1 hp), an assisted top speed of no more than 20 mph, and pedals. It's the 'pedal' part that's the problem. There is no provision defining what an 'e-bike' is in terms of design or weight. As long as it has pedals, technically it's considered an 'e-bike.' This gray area enabled the importation of vehicles from Asia that meet the motor, speed and pedal requirement, but are clearly NOT bicycles by any stretch of the imagination, as the photo above by Kendal Rodriquez illustrates. The rider (actually there are two of them in the photo) is riding what, according to current federal law, can be considered an 'e-bike' - see the pedals he's not using?

But then, so what? I have to believe that the officers of the NYPD really have to believe in their hearts that they didn't join the force to ticket working men and women riding bicycles or mopeds or scooter or whatever you want to call them in their pursuit of a education or earning a living. If someone riding an e-bike obeys the laws and delivers my order of General Tsao still piping hot, who cares what they rode in on. It's better than delivering food by carbon-spewing automobile like my local Pizza Ranch and Jimmy Johns.

If New York City and the State of New York wants to solve the problem, here's a thought: if it looks like a scooter, acts like a scooter and weighs as much as a scooter: it's a scooter, regardless of whether or not its gasoline or electric. Make the owner register it and slap a license on it. If, instead, it looks like a bicycle, acts like a bicycle and weighs as much as a bicycle, then, damn it, it's a bicycle. Treat it just like we do here in Nebraska (thank you Governor Ricketts, Senator Smith, and your colleagues in the Unicameral who unanimously passed LB95 in late February): it's a bicycle even if it does have a small electric motor and battery.

So, back to my question. What's the young man riding in the above photo?

Also see Ryan Clark's commentary on this issue on Multibriefs.com.

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