Navigant Research Blog

In New York City, E-Bikes Get 86’d

Dave Hurst — June 5, 2013

On May 15th, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg signed a new e-bicycle ban.  This may strike some as curious since e-bikes were already illegal in NYC.  The new law makes it easier for police to enforce the ban and issue tickets to businesses that have e-bikes parked outside their locations.  But they don’t technically apply to all e-bikes.

The confusion surrounding this ban is inherent in the definition of e-bikes, which have motors up to 750 watts and a controller that lets the rider set the mode to either pedal assist or throttle control (to be driven like scooters).  Scooter-style e-bikes have pedals but are really designed to be driven like scooters.  The NYC ban appears to lump all e-bikes with a throttle, regardless of whether they have a pedal-assist mode, into the same category.

The e-bike confusion isn’t new.  Toronto has been challenged by what to do with e-bicycles as well, resulting in bans on bicycle paths.  Other cities are likely to join the ranks soon as e-bicycles continue to grow in numbers on the roads and bike lanes.

Annual E-Bicycle Sales, United States: 2013-2020


(Source: Navigant Research)

Businesses that use e-bikes for deliveries are stuck in a quandary.  As a result of the ban, it seems likely that businesses will either continue to use them illegally (arguably the most likely scenario) or move to bicycles, passenger cars, or perhaps gas-powered motorcycles or scooters.  From a safety standpoint, NYC officials will likely feel justified in upholding the ban.  But from a more broad-based perspective, this ban (if actually enforced) could have negative effects on traffic and emissions – or even reduce deliveries.  Of course, one could argue that pedal-assist bikes will ultimately benefit from the ban.

The regulations are not good news for e-bike manufacturers, as confusion is rarely good for markets.  Via email, Larry Pizzi, President of Currie Technologies, told me, “This [new law] is a concern and, of course, we would like to have clear and easily understandable legislation and regulations regarding e-bikes in every state and municipality.  The bills that the Mayor signed further confuses the situation regarding the definition of an e-bike, but I believe that in the near term this situation will resolve in favor of a true e-bikes and relegate the electric mopeds into the motor vehicle category, where they clearly belong.”

While I anticipate that sales of e-bikes in New York this year may be somewhat reduced by the ban, all of these issues will get sorted out and have less impact in subsequent years.  Still, the issues may be even more complicated for stores that sell e-bikes in NYC.  The ban on throttle-controlled e-bikes has nothing to do with selling them, which is still completely legal.  Apparently, if you live in the city, you are welcome to buy a throttle e-bike and take photos of it on your couch, but you’ll have to be ready to argue the differences between pedal-assist versus throttle control if you want to actually ride it.

2 responses to “In New York City, E-Bikes Get 86’d”

  1. Dave: As a 30-year resident of NYC, I both understand the reasons for the ban & doubt very much that there will be an increase in emissions.

    Delivery businesses will go back to doing what they’ve always done: hiring underpaid, barely-English-speaking menial delivery guys who will ride good, old-fashioned pedal bikes. Some will flout the law until they’ve had sufficient numbers of pricey e-bikes confiscated.

    One of the things not taken into account by outsiders when looking at big-city bans is the deadliness of e-bikes compared to pedal bikes. The former make no noise, operate much faster when loaded, and are much heavier when they hit pedestrians.

    There are dozens of people killed by bikes in NYC every year, only a fraction of which even hit the papers.

    There’s a reason the new, and so far very popular, CitiBike program uses old-fashioned bikes: They’re not that fast, they make the usual bike noises, and hence they’re less likely to kill someone.

    My 2 cents.

  2. Ari says:

    Why can’t food be delivered by pedal-assist e-bikes rather than ones with throttles?

    That will mean the cost of replacing old vehicles with new ones, but it doesn’t seem all that hard.

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