New Yorkers are changing how they are getting around due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past several months, many commuters have avoided the city’s public transportation network out of fear of contracting the virus. More city-goers are relying on alternative forms of transportation, such as electric bikes and scooters, to get around. This has the potential to improve overall air quality and pedestrian safety in the city. E-bikes and e-scooters provide a socially distanced commute that lowers vehicular congestion and contributes to an overall decrease in greenhouse gases and particulate matter emissions.
With the gradual shift back to “normalcy,” there is a concern that people will rely on private vehicles to get around rather than mass transit. Now is a critical time for the city to provide improved access to e-bike and e-scooter transportation. NYLCV is appreciative of the recent efforts led by Speaker Corey Johnson and the rest of the City Council to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters and create a pilot program for shared e-scooters in New York City. This law, passed as Intro 1266, requires the Department of Transportation to have requested proposals for the program by October 15th, 2020. The public launch of the program, set for March 1st, 2021, will prioritize communities that are underserved by existing bikeshare programs and other forms of transportation. A handful of companies, including Bird, Lyft, Spin, and Link, are already in pursuit of getting permits to roll out their e-scooter rental programs to the public.
Despite the Council’s support for this program, its implementation depends on the prior approval of the Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, budget cuts have left the DOT short staffed, which will likely delay the launch of the program. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg mentioned in a press conference last month that these cuts will “…make it hard for a scooter program to begin before Mayor de Blasio leaves office at the end of 2021”. The Commissioner recently announced that the scheduled RFP will not be released until the end of October.
NYCLV, together with the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Transportation Alternatives, Waterfront Alliance, Tech:NYC, and the Regional Plan Association, issued a letter to Commissioner Trottenberg that reiterates the importance of following through with this program before the end of the year. E-scooters have the potential to further decrease traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide commuters with a socially distanced transportation option. It is a critical time to be pragmatic and execute this pilot as New York City continues to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. If not, we run the risk of more cars flooding the streets, directly opposing the city’s goals concerning congestion pricing and the Vision Zero initiative.
NYLCV looks forward to working with the Department of Transportation and other organizations to establish a safe, effective e-scooter pilot program that will benefit the communities that need it most. It is as possible as it is necessary to get this done. Although the pandemic has caused many significant challenges for New York, it has also brought to light how the city can recover and reconstruct for a more resilient future.