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Cuomo vetoes bill to legalize electric bikes, scooters in New York State

A Lime dockless electric scooter is seen in

A Lime dockless electric scooter is seen in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Getty Images/Mario Tama

Legislation that passed overwhelmingly to legalize electric scooters and electric bikes on the roadways of Long Island and across New York State has been vetoed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, his spokesman said Thursday. 

Supporters said these additional modes of transportation would help reduce air pollution and traffic congestion and benefit thousands of food delivery workers, mostly in New York City, who rely extensively on e-bikes that are now illegal.

Rich Azzopardi, the Cuomo spokesman, confirmed the veto and provided a copy of the governor's veto message, in which he expressed safety concerns, including the legislation's lack of a helmet requirement for e-scooter riders.

"Failure to include these basic measures renders this legislation fatally flawed," the message said, pointing to a study this year in the American Journal of Otolaryngology calling head and face injuries on the scooters "a rising epidemic."

On Thursday night, after his spokesman had said earlier that the matter would be taken up in the next session, Cuomo tweeted: “There is no need for us to choose between legalizing e-bikes and safety, and I will propose a bill that does both on January 8.” Azzopardi said in a text message that Cuomo’s proposal also would address e-scooters.

Researchers and policymakers disagree over whether helmet mandates are the way to go. 

Joe Cutrufo, a spokesman for the group Transportation Alternatives, pointed to data that shows, counterintuitively, helmet mandates for scooters and bikes can diminish safety by discouraging the modes' use — and that automobiles are far more dangerous to occupants and pedestrians alike.

“When you have fewer people using bikes and scooters, you don’t get the safety-in-numbers effect that comes with having a critical mass of people getting around on two wheels,” he said, adding: “You want to call this a no-brainer, but then again, where do we draw the line? Should New York start requiring helmets for pedestrians? Should we require helmets for motor-vehicle occupants”

Cuomo's message also cited the death of an Elizabeth, New Jersey, teen who was struck and killed by a tow-truck driver who made a right turn into the 16-year-old riding an e-scooter last month.

Cuomo had until Jan. 4 to decide what to do with the legislation, which passed in June.

Although the bill passed with overwhelming majorities, it's extremely unlikely the legislature will override the veto, meaning the bill will die, said Alex Camarda, a senior policy adviser for the good-government group Reinvent Albany. 

Jurisdictions handle the issue of helmets differently — some require them and others just recommend them. Some jurisdictions have recently loosened the mandate: California rescinded its helmet law for adults last year.

The legislation Cuomo vetoed was among hundreds of unrelated bills that pass each session in Albany. It would have allowed jurisdictions to authorize the kind of e-scooter rental programs that have rapidly spread across the United States and around the world.

In those programs, the two-wheeled, battery-powered devices are scattered by the hundreds or even thousands on the street, unlocked with a smartphone app, rented by the minute, and then left parked for the next rider.

Under the legislation, individual jurisdictions would have been able to limit, or even ban, the devices, and no e-scooter rental program would be allowed in Manhattan.

The Town of Hempstead had solicited and received two proposals to test out an e-scooter rental program under outgoing Supervisor Laura Gillen. Mike Caputo, a spokesman for incoming Supervisor Don Clavin, said earlier this week that the new administration hadn't decided whether it would have proceeded.

In the state bill text, sponsors cited the experience of cities such as Phoenix, Denver and Portland, among 100 or so, that have seen "substantial reduction" in automobile traffic with electric bikes and e-scooters, and noted they offer a cheaper transportation option than automobiles.

Jessica Ramos, a state senator who sponsored the bill in her chamber, said in a written statement: "We failed to take the soonest action to reduce vehicular congestion on the street, provide an environmentally friendly alternative and create new means of transportation for people who live in transit deserts."

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