Tuesday, April 3, 2018

NYC paves the way for pedal-assist bike-sharing

While dockless, electric bike-sharing programs have taken off in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, the same can’t be said for New York City, yet. Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio effectively paved the way for bike-sharing startups with pedal-assist functionality to hit the streets in a legal way.

“As cycling continues to grow in popularity for commuting, deliveries and tourism, we are seeing the demand for pedal-assist bicycles that can help cyclists travel longer distances and more easily climb steep hills,” Mayor de Blasio said in a press release. “With new and clear guidelines, cyclists, delivery workers and businesses alike will now understand exactly what devices are allowed.”

This framework comes several months after Mayor de Blasio cracked down on e-bikes, which led to the NYPD confiscating 923 e-bikes and issuing about 1,800 citations to people who were caught riding them.

Before today, it was legal to own an e-bike, but it was technically illegal to operate them. Now, the Department of Transportation is working on rules and regulations to make pedal-assist bikes legal to ride in the city. The new framework legalizes pedal-assist bikes while keeping in tact regulations that make throttle e-bikes that go above 20MPH illegal.

“Cycling, including on pedal-assist bikes, is not only fun, it’s a fast, affordable, healthy and sustainable way of getting around,” NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement. “With challenges like the L train tunnel closure on the horizon, our aim is to balance moving even more New Yorkers on two wheels with the need to manage that growth safely.”

The DOT is also exploring opportunities for dockless bike-sharing in the city. In December, the DOT requested “expressions of interest” from companies looking to launch some pilots in the city.

“Dockless bike share holds the potential to bring meaningful and affordable transportation services to wide areas of the City, and the City wishes to evaluate, in a careful and controlled fashion, whether Dockless vendors can operate safely and successfully in the City’s environment,” the memo stated.

JUMP, the NYC-based bike-sharing startup that scored an exclusive contract with San Francisco to operate its pedal-assist bikes, is obviously happy about this. In addition to San Francisco, JUMP operates its dockless pedal-assist bikes in Washington D.C. and Sacramento.

“If biking is to become a more viable transportation option, it’s got to be accessible to people no matter their zip code, age, or physical ability,” JUMP CEO Ryan Rzepecki said in a statement. “Pedal-assist will do just that, opening up access for individuals who haven’t been on a bike in years, and who live and work far from bus and train options.”

As TechCrunch has previously noted, bike-share is not the only hot new way of getting around town. Over the last couple of months, a number of companies have unveiled e-scooter sharing services. Last week, a number of them launched in San Francisco.

It’s not clear where NYC stands on scooters, but I’ve reached out to the mayor’s office to learn more.