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Democrats Quietly Dropped E-Scooter Legalization From The Budget

Dong Shixiang delivers food on his illegal e-bike on the Upper West Side in 2018
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Dong Shixiang delivers food on his illegal e-bike on the Upper West Side in 2018 Scott Heins / Gothamist

Aside from the bigger accomplishments of congestion pricing, eliminating many instances of cash bail, and banning plastic bags, Governor Andrew Cuomo could claim other victories in the passage of his $175.5 billion budget. The limousine industry will get more regulation after last year's upstate crash that killed 20 people. New Yorkers will now get three paid hours off to vote on election day, and will be able to register to vote online. But Cuomo's budget proposal to allow localities to decide for themselves whether to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters did not make it through.

The governor's office says they fought for the measure along with the rest of their agenda, but neither the State Assembly or the State Senate included it in their budget proposals, indicating that getting it passed will be difficult.

"This proposal was not included in our Assembly proposal because it does not have a fiscal impact and could be considered outside the context of the budget," Kerri Biche, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told Gothamist, adding that the Assembly has "previously supported e-bike bills."

A spokesperson for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not respond to our request for comment.

A package of City Council legislation that would legalize e-bikes and e-scooters would have gotten a boost from Cuomo's proposal. The bills seek to end what is seen by many as a double-standard on New York City's streets: while Citi Bike is allowed to deploy 4,000 pedal-assist e-bikes, delivery cyclists who rely on the throttle-powered e-bikes for their livelihoods are fined and have their bikes confiscated. Bird and other scooter companies want the legislation to pass so they can flood neighborhoods with the kind of electric-powered scooters that have become popular in Portland, San Francisco, and Mexico City.

Brooklyn Council Member Rafael Espinal, who is one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, said he was "disappointed" that Cuomo's proposal was left out of the budget.

"We have been pushing the issue for seven years, and will continue fighting to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters in New York," Espinal said, adding that he is "ready to move forward with [the legislation] once we get clarity from Albany on what they intend to do."

Mayor de Blasio's administration and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson have both expressed some support of the council's legislation, but believe that Albany has to act first, while the bills' sponsors believe that the council can act to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters alone.

Of course, electric bike/scooter home-rule isn't the only issue on the legislature's plate before the session officially ends on June 19: marijuana legalization and rent reforms also have to be hashed out, or not.

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