Years after the rest of the U.S. saw an influx of shared electric scooters, New York City will finally allow companies like Lime and Bird to set up shop in the Big Apple. The city's Department of Transportation on Friday issued a request for "expressions of interest" for a shared electric scooter pilot program beginning in March 2021.
Companies including Lime, Bird, and Spin have all said they plan on applying for the program, though it's unclear how many will be granted permission to drop their scooters onto city streets on day one. Also, strangely, the initial program won't include Manhattan, though that may change if the pilots in other boroughs prove to be successful.
The final holdout — New York City already has Citi Bike, a dockless bike-share program offered in partnership with ride-hailing service Lyft that it has promoted for years and that offers some pedal-assisted e-bikes as part of its fleet. But the state long banned the use of throttle-based electric bikes and scooters over safety concerns, with Governor Andrew Cuomo saying he was worried about congestion and riders knocking over pedestrians.
Back in April, New York finally legalized the vehicles under a bill that gives local municipalities the ability to decide how to regulate the vehicles. The law follows similar ones across the rest of the country, limiting e-scooter speeds to 15 mph — which, if you've ever ridden one, might seem pretty slow. But hey, it's about safety. And if you've ever had one whip past you at top speed on the sidewalk... that seems like a good call.
E-bikes have long been popular in NYC for food deliveries, but for a long time operated without official sanction and risked fines. Similarly, New Yorkers have long used e-scooters, electric skateboards, electric unicycles, and e-bikes despite their dubious legal standing, and simply taken their chances with law enforcement. Meanwhile, e-moped company Revel (which started operating in Brooklyn exclusively) has gone from strength to strength despite fatalities, proving there's a serious appetite for two-wheeled solutions in the U.S.'s most densely populated city.
Scooters are popular — Cities around the world for years tussled with scooter companies for clogging sidewalks with their vehicles and causing spikes in hospital visits. But the scooters have proven a popular form of transportation because they're convenient and fun to ride — and they're particularly in high demand right now as people seek socially-distant ways of getting around.
Electric scooter companies have been working hard to improve their business models and become sustainable following several boom years when they were able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Bird has acquired several competitors and laid off hundreds of employees, and in June, Uber sold its Jump scooter business to Lime.
These companies have also been working hard to improve the lifespan of their scooters so they don't have to be repaired and replaced so often. Bird back in January introduced a scooter called the Bird Two that can self-diagnose technical issues and report them back to the company so that riders don't start a rental only to discover the scooter is a dud. Adding New York as a potential market is going to be far too appealing for any scooter company to pass up.