Electric Scooters Are Sweeping the Country. New York Says Not So Fast.


Lawmakers worry that scooters are too dangerous, especially in Manhattan, where cars, pedestrians and cyclists already compete for limited street space.

When Helmis Ortega visited Atlanta not long ago, he toured the city on an electric scooter. Once back in New York City, he was struck by the scooter-free streets.

“It blew my mind,” said Mr. Ortega, a paralegal who lives in Upper Manhattan. “How do we not have this here?”

The answer is simple: Officials do not believe the biggest — and most crowded — city in the country is ready for scooters.

Companies like Bird and Lime that rent scooters in other cities have stayed away from New York because the devices are technically illegal. Rule breakers could get hit with a $500 fine or have their scooter confiscated.

So New Yorkers, long proud of their status as cultural trendsetters on everything from fashion to Cronuts, have been left out of the scooter craze sweeping the nation.

Electric scooters have appeared in dozens of cities — from Los Angeles to Washington and across the Midwest — winning plenty of fans and at least as many enemies who view them as a nuisance. They are a cheap way to get around, for fun or commuting, and are faster than walking and more enjoyable than sitting in traffic.

The devices recently became legal in New Jersey, where they have already flooded the streets of Hoboken, just across the Hudson River. But it appears that electric scooters are unlikely to arrive in New York City anytime soon.

Leaders in New York are reluctant to change the law and worry that scooters are too dangerous, especially in an increasingly congested Manhattan where cars, pedestrians and cyclists are already competing for limited street space.

An unfortunate spill by Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, in Mexico City did not help the cause. He rented a Lime scooter on vacation in April and immediately “face planted,” leaving him covered with black grime from the street and nursing a few scrapes.

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