9/9/2020

Are Electric Scooters Legal in NYC?

It finally happened, and not a moment too soon. New York has legalized e-bikes and e-scooters statewide in an agreement reached in April during the last legislative session. This is great news for commuters, students, delivery workers, and all New Yorkers hoping to minimize the risks of coronavirus transmission on public transit. Electric scooters and e-bikes, whether shared or owned, are becoming essential components of transportation systems worldwide, and that has especially been the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many public health agencies at first suggested that commuters avoid public transportation altogether, more recent guidelines in the past few months have recommended fifty percent capacity on subways and buses and have not recommended using rideshare services. This has left commuters in a difficult position and inspired more people to start taking e-scooters and bikes to work. But while the shift is happening in major cities around the world, easing congestion and allowing for better social distancing, New York has held out, despite the COVID impact on the city and the already excessively long commutes.

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Legislators in New York City worried that personal electric vehicles might create even more traffic congestion, though data suggests the opposite is true. Last month, however, the new law took effect, and with the right implementation, it should ease traffic. The law covers pedal-assisted e-bikes that can reach speeds of up to 20 miles (32 km) per hour, throttle-controlled e-bikes that can top out at 20 mph (or 25 mph (40 km/h) in cities of over a million people), and electric scooters that reach speeds of up to 15 mph (25 km/h).

Who Benefits?

For commuters, this means that scooter shares will become available around the state and those who purchase their own scooters, such as the lightweight, high-performance Unagi Model One, can use them to safely social distance during the pandemic. Nearly everyone who does so will discover that electric scooters provide one of the fastest, most efficient ways to take control of a commute. As scooters become more popular in New York, cities in the state will likely begin adapting infrastructure to better accommodate them.

This is also excellent news for delivery workers in New York City, who must navigate constant traffic and who rely on the ability to get through it as quickly as possible. It is also very good news for students, who will be returning to schools soon when they reopen. College and university students have already embraced electric scooters on campuses nationwide.

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In places like New York City, scooters are particularly useful as they don’t require a parking space, can be carried inside a classroom or office, and can be less expensive than public transportation costs in New York City, which are 75 percent higher than the national average. Unagi even offers a monthly subscription program in which riders in Manhattan and Brooklyn can try out their high-quality scooters with no commitments and with insurance included.

Some Further Restrictions

The New York DMV details some further restrictions to the new law:

Effective August 2, 2020 - the law allows people to operate electric scooters (e-scooters) and bicycles with electric assist (e-bikes) on some streets and highways in New York State.

  • Electric scooter - a type of device with handlebars, a floorboard or a seat, and an electric motor that can be powered by the electric motor and/or human power.
  • Bicycle with electric assist - multiple classes of bicycle with an electric motor and operable pedals. A bicycle with electric assist doesn’t qualify for a registration as a motorcycle, limited use motorcycle, moped or ATV and doesn’t have the same equipment.

You can operate an electric scooter or bicycle with electric assist on some streets and highways in New York State:

  • you can operate these devices on highways with a posted speed limit of 30 MPH or less
  • municipalities can further regulate the time, place and manner of operation of these devices
  • you cannot operate these devices on a sidewalk except as authorized by local law or ordinance


Note: An electric scooter or bicycle with electric assist cannot be registered but still may be operated on some streets and highways in New York State.

No Scooter Shares in Manhattan

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A scooter revolution promises great things for the future of public transportation in New York City, but don’t look for share companies to start taking over street corners in Manhattan. One of the new law’s stipulations allows cities and counties in the state to regulate electric vehicles as they see fit. While the New York City boroughs can allow companies like Lime, Bird, and Spin to operate, Manhattan has banned shared scooters from its streets and will only allow personally owned scooters, which gives Manhattanites and commuters even more incentive to invest in a high-quality vehicle like Unagi.

Another question, the Verge writes, is “whether scooter startups will still be around to take advantage of the newly legal New York market.” The months of lockdown have taken a significant toll on share revenues and share companies are struggling to recuperate their losses. If share companies are not able to take advantage of the new market, it will give consumers even more reason to try and buy their own electric scooters. For now, commuters in Manhattan will have no other option, though the city could overturn the ban on scooter shares eventually. In any case, with opportunities like Unagi’s All-Access subscription service, commuters can always find out what it’s like to own their own scooter—and they can have one delivered to them, with insurance and without long-term commitments, in under twenty-four hours.


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