e scooter

New York City is on the verge of approving a shared electric scooter pilot program, opening up a potentially lucrative market and new micromobility battleground in the United States.

This year more than ever workers, including health-care and delivery workers, require sustainable, flexible options for navigating around the city. As the recent surge in bicycle sales suggests, people are feeling safer using individual vehicles that allow for social distancing. E-scooters and e-bikes can help us ease back into public life without adding to citywide gridlock.

Before the pandemic began, traffic congestion in New York City was at an all-time high. According to the New York City Department of Transportation, vehicle registrations were increasing citywide while freight traffic and home deliveries also continued to rise. The only way to avoid the looming “carpocalypse” is to support transportation options that get people out of their cars.

E-scooters and other forms of micromobility offer cities like New York a natural complement to the transit services they already provide. And during a time when confidence in transit has tanked, these new transportation options have become even more important. To rely on shared e-scooters, New Yorkers will need access to a well-maintained fleet of vehicles that are waiting curbside.

The decision to welcome e-scooters to the streets of New York has huge potential to change the way New York City residents get around the city during the pandemic — and for years to come. If implemented properly, e-scooters and e-bikes are likely to become as embedded in the city’s character as the yellow cab. If implemented poorly, they may just end up in the bottom of the East River.

E-Scooter Program

New York City is about to solicit bids for a new electric scooter sharing program that could eventually transform the city’s micro-mobility landscape. 

For years, transit advocates clamored for the legalization of e-bikes and e-scooters, which was finally approved by both the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s state budget in April. In June, the New York City Council passed legislation establishing local regulations as well as mandating an e-scooter sharing pilot program for at least one year and two years at most. Under the legislation, the Department of Transportation is required to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) on October 15, with the aim of launching the program by March 1, 2021. 

The e-scooter program is meant to offer a new option for getting around, especially in environmentally-friendly fashion, and to fill the gaps in transit alternatives, particularly in neighborhoods that currently aren’t served by Citi Bike’s bicycle-share system.

“Now more than ever New York City needs transportation options, especially micro mobility which is affordable, accessible, environmentally friendly and allows safe distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat who sponsored the legislation, in a statement. Though Cabrera acknowledged that the city faces budget constraints that Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has raised concerns about, he urged the administration to create a program that “is as broad as possible to compare and contrast results in different communities and develop best practices, particularly around storage of scooters.”

Transit advocates are eager to see the program get up and running, particularly as the pandemic has changed how New Yorkers live and commute across the city. Subway and bus ridership have yet to recover back to pre-pandemic levels while bike ridership has boomed. The program is also another reason for the city to reimagine its streetscapes, they say, with an eye to creating more room for micro-mobility and reducing New Yorkers’ reliance on cars.

Although late to the game of micro-mobility, New York City has the advantage of being an attractive market for companies because of its density and connectivity with mass transit, especially as e-scooter usage has increased dramatically over the last few years – according to a report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, there were 38.5 million trips on shared e-scooters in 2018 across the country, out of 84 million shared micro-mobility trips. 

There are likely to be challenges for the city, like staffing. Though the DOT has installed more than 400 miles of bike lanes under de Blasio, the city’s bike infrastructure remains woefully inadequate to handle a crush of new bicycle and scooter riders. E-scooter sales have already shot through the roof, according to a Streetsblog report.


by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette  Read more by this writer.

Partly Reposted with permission from the Gotham Gazette