Proliferation of ‘Micromobility Vehicles’ Vie for Bus Drivers’ Attention as Collisions Up

October 17, 2022 | 7:34 PM in NEWS

By Jose Martinez, The City
This article was originally published on Oct 17 6:45am EDT by THE CITY

An e-bike rider navigates between NYPD vehicles and a B44 along Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. Oct. 13, 2022. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY. 

In the six years Danny Cruz has been driving a city bus, he has been a near-daily witness to a shifting streetscape — one increasingly populated with smaller new forms of transportation. 

“The e-bike came from a side street as I was pulling into a bus stop and just turned right in front of me,” said Cruz, a bus operator on the M3 route that runs between Washington Heights

and the East Village. “At that moment, your heart stops and you fear the worst.” 

While Cruz avoided contact with the e-biker, he said the moment highlighted changes to city streets that emerged during the pandemic and the accompanying safety challenges. 

MTA statistics show that collisions between buses and e-bikes and e-scooters have surged since 2019, the year before many were legalized in the city. 

“You’re not just paying attention to motorists and pedestrians, but now we have e-bikes, we have e-scooters,” Cruz told THE CITY. “We’re paying attention left, right, middle, inside the bus, outside the bus. 

It is a lot to take in every day and to process on pretty much every block.” 

So far this year, there have been 35 collisions between MTA buses and e-bikes or e-scooters, according to MTA statistics provided to THE CITY. That’s significantly higher than the 27 such collisions in all of 2021, when the number rose from 17 in 2020. 

In 2019 there were only four collisions that involved MTA buses and e-bikes or e-scooters. 

“Every day, two or three times, I can get a report of an accident with a bicycle or a scooter,” said JP Patafio, a Transport Workers Union Local 100 vice president, as he scanned alerts of collisions involving buses. “Wednesday: bus-scooter, Thursday: bus-scooter, Friday: bus-scooter. 

“It’s a competition for the street,” said Patafio, who represents Brooklyn bus operators. “We’re competing for the same real estate.” 

The increase is part of a broader recent uptick in bus collisions, which MTA officials pinned on the return to pre-pandemic traffic levels and the hiring of more than 2,000 new bus operators. 

Janno Lieber, MTA chairperson and CEO, noted last month that “a very disproportionate number” of incident reports have to do with electric-powered forms of transportation that are “suddenly very, very present in our landscape.” 

“A lot of them are operating to the right of buses, I see a lot of collisions of that kind,” Lieber told THE CITY after the MTA board’s September meeting. “That is a very challenging feature

of our traffic environment, quite suddenly.” 

‘A Lot of Confusion on the Streets’ 

While scooters have become a ubiquitous part of city traffic — both on and off the asphalt — there are no solid numbers for how many are being used. There are about 40,000 more Citi Bikes in New York than there were a decade ago, according to the company. And City Hall estimates that there are now roughly 65,000 app-based food delivery workers across the five boroughs, many if not most of them using e-bikes. 

Several delivery workers who spoke to THE CITY acknowledged they can be loose with the rules of the road because their jobs depend on speedy service. 

“There is a lot of confusion on the streets, but everyone has to be careful,” Oscar David, 35, who uses an e-bike to make food deliveries for Manhattan restaurants, told THE CITY in Spanish. “We’re in a hurry, we’re working every day and if we don’t go fast, we don’t make money. “ 

“It can get uncomfortable when you’re next to a bus,” said Javier Lopez, 30, a delivery worker who was taking a break on his e-bike to the side of an Upper West Side bike lane. 

The concerns over safety point to what bus operators, safe-streets advocates and elected officials say are shortcomings to street design in space shared by motor vehicles, as well as confusion over who operates where. 

“It’s all infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure,” Juan Restrepo, a senior organizer with the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives. “Building physically protected infrastructure [lanes] for bike riders makes our streets safer for everybody.” 

The advocacy group’s Protected Bike Lane Tracker, which charts the city’s progress on installing protected bike lanes, points out that only 7.2 miles of the 30 miles that were supposed to be in place by the end of this year have been installed. By the end of 2026, 250 miles must be in place as part of the five-year NYC Streets Plan.

A Brooklynite on one wheel crosses Fort Greene’s Dekalb Avenue in a rain poncho. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY. 

Jessica Ramos, a Queens state senator who led the push for legalizing e-bikes and e scooters, said the city has not delivered enough on street safety. 

“We want people out of cars and on these devices,” she told THE CITY. “But yet, we haven’t seen the city respond to that increase with a street design that supports it.” 

In June, a Hunter College study of nearly 5,200 riders of e-bikes, e-scooters, mopeds and other forms of “micromobility” found a good chunk of them didn’t adhere to rules of the road. 

“We’re in a period of transition right now,” said Peter Tuckel, a professor emeritus of sociology who co-authored the study. “I refer to it in the report as an embryonic state, and that’s very perilous when you’re in transition because the rules of the road haven’t been assimilated.” 

Tuckel said greater clarity is a must on how streets are shared. 

Licensing and Education

Like bicycles, e-bikes and scooters do not require licenses to operate and can use bike lanes. Mopeds, which do need a license to operate, are supposed to stay out of bike lanes. Heavier e-mopeds that lack pedals are not street-legal, according to the city Department of Transportation, but have also proliferated on city streets during the pandemic, experts note. 

“Think about it,” said Tuckel, “you’re a bus driver and you have all these e-bikes and e scooters that don’t have as visible a presence and that’s a danger to the bus operator and the rider of the e-bike.” 

A spokesperson for the city DOT said the agency is trying to keep users of newer forms of transportation in the know on how to operate safely. 

Road work in the Flatiron District. Oct. 14, 2022. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY. 

“We are working closely with the NYPD and labor coalitions to both provide education on safe cycling and target enforcement against businesses for selling these illegal mopeds,” said the transportation department’s Vin Barone. “The mopeds are not e-bikes and it is against the law to sell them in New York.”

Bus operators and TWU Local 100 officials acknowledged that new forms of so-called micromobility are now a fixture. 

Cruz, the M3 bus operator, said he himself owns a street-legal e-scooter that he sometimes uses to commute between The Bronx and Manhattan. His experience as a bus operator has made him more aware of staying safe both on the e-scooter and behind the wheel of the bus. 

“It’s extremely more challenging, more dangerous, more mentally draining,” he said. “It’s a lot of things where you try to think ahead.” 

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